Re-examining 2018 Season Projections (NL)

Prior to the start of the 2018 season, Underthought made some predictions about the 2018 season. Now, at the mid-season point, Underthought re-examines the teams and updates predicted win totals for the National League.

national league

 

NL EAST

Washington: pre-season projected wins 93  mid-season projected wins 89

Atlanta: pre-season projection 78  mid-season 88

Philly: pre-season projection 83  mid-season 86

NY Mets: pre-season projection 79  mid-season 66

Miami: pre-season projection 59  mid-season 61

In a nutshell: Atlanta’s youth movement has earned high marks in the first half.  Coupled with production from the veterans like Markakis and Freeman, this team looks like they are for real.  Although almost all of the starting pitching is average to slightly below average, their bullpen has the ability to keep them in close games.   Atlanta has a great farm system and may need to make a move for more reliable starting pitching if it wants to secure itself a post-season birth.

The Phillies on the other hand have a great young core of starting pitchers (and veteran Arrieta).  It’s their bullpen that is a glaring weakness.  Dominguez appears to be able to handle high leverage and/or closing duties but Neris and company are suspect at best.  The line up has a lot of developing talent and it is foreseeable that this team can keep itself in the playoff hunt for the rest of the year if they can sure up their pen issues.

The Nationals have had a very uneven season and are significantly under-performing expectations.  Harper has hit for power and taken walks but has not done much else.  Turner and Taylor are both great on the base paths and have a high stolen base success rate, however, they both need to get on base more (especially Taylor) to have a significant impact for the team.  Injuries to Eaton, Rendon, and Strasburg have had a negative effect and the under-performance of all the starters besides Scherzer has the team on the outside of the playoffs looking in.  The Nats love acquiring closers from other teams and adding Herrera was a solid move (especially based on what they gave up for him), however, this team has more pressing needs than adding to a solid, but unspectacular pen.  The Nats need to get healthy and right the ship before 2018 becomes a lost year.

The Mets continue to rely on their starting pitching to make them a contender and the starters continue to get hurt at an alarming rate.  The offense is not immune to the injury bug as well.  There is now talk of the Mets dealing deGrom and/or Syndergaard which would push the Mets into complete rebuild mode.  It would be tough to move either of these young stars but as the team circles the toilet bowl once again the organization has to at least listen to offers.

The Marlins look bad.  Outside of Realmuto, only one other regular has an OPS over .800. (two have OPS below.550).  Their bullpen has some nice power arms in Barraclough, Steckenrider, and Guerrero but the starters look miserable and are averaging less than a strikeout per inning which is awful given the way the game is currently being played.  Jeter and company will continue to trade any asset not nailed down so things will probably get even worse for the fish before season’s end.

 

NL CENTRAL

Chicago Cubs: pre-season projected wins 93  mid-season projected wins 93

Mill Brewers: pre-season projection 84  mid-season projected wins 92

St. Louis: pre-season projection 84  mid-season projected wins 84

Pittsburg: pre-season projection 76  mid-season projected wins 74

Cinn Reds: pre-season projection 71  mid-season projected wins 73 wins

In a nutshell: The Cubs let Arrieta walk and the new faces have not worked out due to injury and ineffectiveness.  Outside of Lester, there are just a series of question marks in the rotation.  The offense stumbled out of the gate with a lack of power from Rizzo, Bryant, and Contreras.  Luckily for the Cubs, Baez has taken a big step forward and younger players like Almora, Happ, and Schwarber have contributed.  The Cubs need to start firing on all cylinders because the NL Central is going to be a dog fight.  Sleep walking through the second half will likely end with the Cubs missing the post season.  Luckily, they have Joe Maddon at the helm so that is less likely to occur.

There’s a great disparity between the Cardinals offense and pitching.  Wong and Fowler are hitting under .200 and Pham has slumped.  Injuries to Molina and DeJong have hurt as well.  Luckily, Martinez has looked great with the bat, Ozuna is heating up, and Carpenter has recently broken out after a brutal start to the season.  Pitching has been the main ingredient to the Cardinals success.  Only one of their 5 starters has an ERA above 3.20 and their core relief arms are solid, if not spectacular.  If Reyes didn’t get hurt again, I would have more faith in this team to make a significant run at the post season.  They’ve played themselves into position but it will be tough for them in the second half.

The Brewers went all in on the 2018 season and so far it is paying off.  The addition of Yelich and Cain has helped the team tremendously and where Arcia has underachieved, Aguilar has more than made up for the difference in offense.  The starting rotation is a little suspect but the elite arms of Knebel, Hader, and Jeffress cover the high leverage work in the pen.  They are going to need more out of the starters to hold off all challengers but banking 47 wins in the first half gives them a little wiggle room.

After trading away Cole and McCutchen, the Pirates have been more competitive than was expected.  Dickerson started hot but has cooled while Meadows has played nicely in his 30 plus games since being called up.  These guys are not playoff bound but have the potential to finish around .500 which is not bad during a season of transition.

The Reds started 3 and 18 which led to their manager being fired.  Their play has improved since but they still find themselves in the cellar of the high powered NL Central.  Gennett has put up a strong season as has Suarez.  Votto also looks solid although his power has been absent.  It’s too bad top prospect Senzel recently hurt himself and will be out of the remainder of the year.  It would have been nice to see him get a call up in September.  Although Castillo was picked by many to be a break out candidate in 2018, he has had an uneven season.  The Iglesias, Garrett, Lorenzen, Hernandez, and Hughes combination in the bullpen gives the team a solid back end.  If the Reds can get a little more from their starters (especially if DeSclafani can stay healthy), the team might get out of last place or at least give the fans of the Reds something to dream on for 2019.

NL WEST

L.A. Dodgers: pre-season projected wins 96  mid-season projected wins 96

Arizona: pre-season projection 87  mid-season projection 91

San Francisco: pre-season projection 82  mid-season projected wins 87

Colorado: pre-season projection 82  mid-season projected wins 82

San Diego: pre-season projection 70  mid-season projected wins 71

The Dodgers were projected to be a big winner heading into 2018 but injuries wrecked their first half of the season.  Seager went out for the year just as Turner was returning and the pitching staff has been sent through a wood chipper.  The good news is whatever was wrong with Jansen at the start the year is a distant memory, the starters are slowly healing and returning, Kemp has rediscovered his hit and fielding tools, Muncy has come out of nowhere to produce at the plate, and Bellinger is getting hot after a slow start.  With health, the Dodgers will overtake their NL West rivals easily however there are a lot of injured players that need to get back on the field and be productive.  I think they win the West but it’s no slam dunk.

The D Backs surprised in 2017 but their success now comes with expectations for 2018.  They had a solid first half thanks to Pollock carrying the offense early and Goldschmidt taking over since Pollock’s injury.  The strength of the D Backs is their pitching and they are going to need to continue getting above average production from Corbin, Godley, and the recently activated Ray.  The bull pen has a lot of solid arms where roles can be interchanged and multi-innings can be covered.  I can see the D Backs getting enough wins for a wild card but some of the hitters are going to have to step up in the second half to lock in a return to the post season.

After a dismal 2017, and an uneven first half of 2018, the Giants are climbing into the hunt for the playoffs.  Bumgarner is finally back which helps compensate for the loss of Cueto and Samardzija.  Losing Strickland to a self-inflicted hand injury is big as the pen was a strength for the team.  There are still many capable arms there but roles are now in flux.  The offense was retooled with a focus on trying to improve the outfield.  McCutchen has been OK but Pence is a disaster.  Belt and Crawford are having great years which helps mitigate the non-producers in the line-up.  This team looks like it can push for a wild card spot but without their key starters it’s likely that they fall short.

Everything broke right for the Rockies in 2017 but this is not the case in 2018.  Arenado, Blackmon, and Story are the only hitters producing and the pitching staff that once looked ready to take a big leap forward has regressed as a unit.  The pen is also inconsistent making the money the team spent on Davis seem wasted (especially with the reemergence of Ottavino).  2018 is not going to be the Rockies’ year.

Only 1 regular/semi-regular player on the Padres has an OPS over .800 so is it any wonder that they reside in last place?  Hosmer, their big ticket free agent, has been solid but not spectacular.  His supporting cast has been inured (Myers and Renfroe) or ineffective (Margot).  Ross, the only decent starter, is destined to be traded to a contender and the solid bullpen, led by Hand, will also likely be raided by teams in the playoff hunt.  It’s not pretty in San Diego.

CLICK HERE for the American League mid season review

CLICK HERE for the MLB Pre-Season Predictions

Follow me on twitter @doctordaver

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Re-examining 2018 Season Projections

Prior to the start of the 2018 season, Underthought made some predictions about the 2018 season.  Now, at the mid-season point, Underthought re-examines the teams and updates predicted win totals for the American League.

 

american league

AL EAST

Boston pre-season win projection 93,  mid-season win projection 101

NY Yankees pre-season projection 94,   mid-season projection 100

Tampa Bay pre-season projection 76, mid-season projection 77

Toronto pre-season projection 82, mid-season projection 76

Baltimore pre-season projection 70, mid-season projection 53

In a nutshell:  The Red Sox have gotten a ton of production from J.D. Martinez.  Add him to Bogaerts’ healthy return, Benintendi’s breakout, and an MVP caliber season from Betts and the Sox are tough to stop.  The starting pitching looks good with Sale as the ace, Porcello looking closer to his 2016 form than his 2017 form, and Rodriguez appearing to be an overqualified #4 starter.  The biggest questions for the Sox to remain at the top of the AL East are, ‘Can Price stay healthy?’ and ‘Who in the bullpen can be trusted with high leverage innings besides Kimbrel?’

The Yankees are stocked offensively.  Torres and Andujar are the real deal, Stanton and Judge are smacking homeruns at the expected rate, and Severino has become an ace (and a top 5 starting pitcher in the AL).  Add a dominant bullpen and the Yankees are right where they want to be as they move towards the trade deadline.  If they can add another average to above average arm to the rotation in combination with Sonny Gray getting right again (he has shaved 1.07 earned runs off his E.R.A. since May 7th) and things are looking extremely good for the Bombers.

How have the Rays managed to play .500 ball?  The offense is a relative mess outside of above average seasons from Ramos and Duffy in addition to the excellent start Jake Bauers has provided since his June call up.  In addition, the rotation outside of Snell is a mess and/or on the disabled list.  They also traded away their “closer”.  It’s hard to see the team staying on their current pace but my gut says they can do it.

Not much has gone right for the Blue Jays.  Donaldson can’t get healthy and almost every starter is having a season at the plate that is below expectations.  Throw in a closer who is suspended from baseball, and a bunch of banged up starting pitchers and it is not hard to see why they are a below .500 team.  Happ (the only starter that looks good) is destined to be traded away as are any useful bullpen pieces.  Jays fans should forget about the rest of this season and look forward to when their top minor league talent is ready in 2019.

The Orioles are the dead man walking in the AL East.  Things weren’t looking good for them entering the season and it’s probable that things are going to get even worse.  They need to trade Machado (and to a lesser extent Britton and Jones) as soon as possible in order to restock their miserable farm system.  Although they would like to avoid a win loss record that puts them into the all-time worst category, they are going to have to stomach the stink and start to rebuild towards the future.  Not much to see here except for monitoring whether Chris Davis puts up the worst season ever statistically (not an exaggeration, look it up).

 

AL CENTRAL

Cleveland pre–season win projection 95  mid-season win projection 95

Minnesota pre-season projection 85  mid-season projection 77

Chicago W.S. pre-season projection 72  mid-season projection 67

Detroit pre-season projection 63  mid-season projection 65

Kansas City pre-season projection 72  mid-season projection 60

In a nutshell: Ben Lindberg recently pointed out that the 2018 AL Central could be the worst division in baseball history.

The Indians appear to be the only competitive team at the mid-point.  They just need to keep healthy and make sure their offense is ready for the post season.

The Twins, who surprised last year, have looked mediocre at best.  Sano is toiling in the minors trying to get back on track, Buxton has been injured for most of the year, and every player on offense outside of Rosario and Escobar is struggling.  It would take a monster second half from this team to even have an outside chance of making the playoffs.  I don’t see it happening.

Some White Sox fans are questioning whether the team’s rebuild is a failure.  However, judging the rebuild this early is silly.  There is a lot of talent in the organization and although there may not be a lot to cheer about this year, I see improvement coming soon.

The Tigers on the other hand will continue to slide.  It was nice to see them put up a better than expected first half.  Castellanos continues to look good as does Candelario and Jimenez but with the loss of Cabrera and below average hitting, power, and pitching, this team is going to sink quickly in the second half.  They need to unload as many of their aging starting pitchers as possible at the deadline for lottery ticket/low minors talent and start their own rebuild.

Kansas City attempted to slow their descent by resigning Moustakas but it didn’t help.  They have already begun trading away pieces (ex. Herrera).  The trading will continue as will the losing.

 

AL WEST

Houston pre-season win projection 96  mid-season win projection 99

Seattle pre-season projection 77  mid-season projection 88

L.A. Angels pre-season projection 84  mid-season projection 83

Oakland pre-season projection 78  mid-season projection 82

Texas pre-season projection 76  mid-season projection 72

In a nutshell:  The Astros are putting it all together and look like they are ready to flatten opponents in the second half as they make another post-season run as the AL West champs.  Maybe a left handed reliever for the bullpen at the trade deadline?  If that is their biggest concern, it shows you how well positioned they are for a repeat.

The Mariners came from out of nowhere and are surprising everyone by staying in the race.  Although Cano is suspended for 80 games, the offense appears just fine as Cruz keeps flashing his home run power and players like Segura and Haniger continue to perform.  Diaz, although possibly being overused, is an amazing power-arm closer and upgrading the bullpen has already begun as the team added Colome from Tampa.  Paxton needs to continue to stay healthy and reclamation projects like Leake and LeBlanc need to keep catching lightening in a bottle.  However, they already have 50 wins banked which puts them in pretty good position to for a post-season birth.

The Angels were my pre-season dark horse but with the injury to Ohtani (and Cozart to a lesser extent) combined with the absolutely decimated starting and relief pitching on their major league roster, and even Mike Trout, the best player in the game, can’t save them.

The As have played solid ball in the first half and outperformed many people’s expectations.  They appear to be winning with a nice balance of hitting and pitching.  Davis keeps hitting bombs and the young bats keep improving.  Manaea had an out of this world May (including a 10 strikeout no hitter) but has slowed down more recently.  Blake Treinen is quietly having an elite season at closer.  I still don’t project these guys as post-season candidates but they are much more fun to watch than I expected.

Texas is having a rough season.  Andrus has recently returned from a prolonged absence and while he was gone, Mazara and Choo were the only consistent offensive contributors.  Beltre has looked brittle but can still hit (although his .313 batting average and .827 OPS is somewhat hollow).  Odor and DeShields both look lost at the plate and although 18 homers from Gallo is nice, his .190 batting average and almost 4 to 1 strikeout to walk rate is not.  Hamels is pitching well enough that he may appeal to a contending team but the rest of the staff is unwatchable.  It is going to be a long hot summer in Arlington.

CLICK HERE for a look at the 2018 pre-season predictions and team write ups.

 

The Power of One

Many MLB teams have played approximately 21 games heading into Wednesday night.  21 games sounds like a decent enough sample and as a result, players who have gotten off to a strong start may be capturing the hearts and minds of fans.  However, be careful of putting too much stock in the leaderboards just yet as individual player statistics are still very “noisy”.  One amazing April day can skew a player’s statistics and move their overall numbers from looking extremely solid to superstar territory.  Here are a few examples.

didi

Didi Gregorius is #1 in RBI with 27 and #2 in home runs with 8.

On April 3 against the Rays, Gregorius went 4 for 4, 3 Runs, 2 Home Runs, 8 RBI.

Remove his best day, and Gregorius would drop down to being tied for 7th in RBI with 19 and tied for 18th in home runs with 6.

 

haniger

Mitch Haniger is #2 in RBI with 24.  #2 in Home runs with 8.

On April 13, Haniger went 2 for 4 with 1 home run, 4 R.B.I. and 1 Run.

Remove his best day and Haniger would then drop to #7 in RBI with 20 and would be tied for #8 in home runs with 7.

 

lowrie

Jed Lowrie #2 in RBI with 24.

On April 11, Lowrie went 3 for 6 with a home run and 4 RBI.

Remove his best day and Lowrie would drop to #7 in RBI with 20.

 

While some players may be well on their way to career years, it is clear that April statistics have the potential to be misleading.  Avert your eyes from the leaderboards for at least another few weeks.  By June 1st, the noise in most of the data should settle down and the leaderboard will be much more stable.

 

trout image

* Interestingly, Mike Trout is currently #1 in Home Runs with 10 and #2 in walks with 17.  If you took away Trout’s best day, he would lose 1 Home Run, 2 walks, and 1 RBI.  His production is not based on one extreme performance but rather a consistent start to the season.  You’ve gotta love Mike Trout!

 

Follow me on Twitter @doctordaver

MLB Team Projections 2018

Projections… damned if you do, damned if you don’t… so here goes.  It’s time to break out the crystal ball and take a look into the future.  Here are the projected win totals and standings for each team.  Have your voice heard and vote for who you think will win each division.  The readers’ poll is located at the bottom of this page.

american league

AL EAST

Yankees 94

Red Sox  93

Blue Jays 82

Rays 76

Orioles 70

In a nutshell:  The Yankees are in the midst of building a superteam but will the pieces fit together in 2018?  The bullpen looks dominant but the starting pitching remains a bit suspect.  Will the Red Sox finally find their identity in the post-David Ortiz era?  Will David Price’s arm hold up and will J.D. Martinez provide the big bat they lacked in 2017?  Can the Blue Jays stay healthy enough to compete for a wild card this season?  Their top talent seems about a year away from the big leagues so 2018 may find them on the outside of the playoffs looking in.  Tampa’s chances went up in smoke when two of their best young arms were injured in spring training (Tommy John for both).  It appears more likely that the Rays opt for a total tear down rather than make a series of minor moves in an attempt to stay competitive in the tough AL East.  The Orioles mismanaged their player assets standing pat rather than making a move to extend or trade their top talent.  Thus, they will likely have nothing to show for themselves when Machado walks at the end of the year as a free agent.  Their farm system has few stars coming and the organization continues to struggle to develop pitching.  All of this makes for a bleak 2018.   

 

AL CENTRAL

Indians 95

Twins 85

Royals 72

White Sox 72

Tigers 63

In a nutshell: The divisions of the haves and have nots.  Cleveland will likely trounce all competition as long as they stay healthy.  The Twins, who surprised everyone last year look to sustain their success but will the ugly Buxton of the first half of 2017 or the beautiful Buxton of the 2nd half show up?  Kansas City delayed their complete free-fall by resigning Moustakas.  The team is going to need serious production from Merrifield and Duda to make up for the loss of Hosmer and Cain.  Too many pitching questions gives this team the look of deadline sellers.  The White Sox have a lot to look forward to with their exciting young core (Moncada, Giolito, Kopech, etc…) but 2018 is likely a growth year for the team and expectations for this season should remain tempered.  The less that can be said about the Tigers, the better.  Cabrera and Martinez need to be healthy and Castellanos needs to continue his assent towards stardom.  The pitching is awful and no amount of offense is going to turn this team into a contender.  However, with health, maybe they can muster enough runs to not be embarrassingly bad. 

 

AL WEST

Astros 97

Angels 84

As 78

Mariners 77

Rangers 76

In a nutshell: The World Champion Astros look to repeat in 2018 and adding Cole to the starting rotation can’t hurt.  They appear to be a well built machine capable of reaching the post season in 2018 and beyond.  The Angels enter 2018 with more hope than they have had in a while.  Mike Trout is the best player in baseball and if Ohtani can figure things out after a miserable spring they have the making of a headline grabbing tandem.  The team also overhauled the infield and look to have the best defense in baseball (just keep Pujols in the DH slot).  Add the re-signed Justin Upton and some pitching health and this could be a team that makes a surprising post season run.  In 2017, the consensus was that the As had the young pitching but not the hitting to sneak up on some teams.  Turns out it was the other way around.  If the young bats can keep things going and the pitching staff can figure things out, this team can be intriguing (though likely not a post season contender).  The Mariners are treading water and have likely already seen their best chances at a post season run with their current core. Adding Gordon may help a little but the pitching staff is a complete mess.  Texas is a tough team to figure out.  They have some interesting pieces (Gallo, Odor, Mazara) and the always entertaining and amazing Beltre (can he stay healthy?) but there are too many question marks with their starting and relief pitching.  I just don’t see them having a successful 2018.     

 

 

national league

 

NL EAST

Nationals 93

Phillies 83

Mets 79

Braves 78

Marlins 59

In a nutshell: Anything less than a first place finish will be a major under-achievement for the Nationals and anything better than a 100 loss season will be a major over-achievement for the Marlins.  The Phillies rebuild appears to have blossomed and their addition of Santana and Arrieta has the team going all in for a playoff birth.  The Mets seem to have plateaued since their dominant pitching corps of a few years ago can’t get healthy.  The Braves will play the service time game with Acuna and then hope his addition to the big league team will be enough to challenge for a wild card (or at least respectability).   A lot will ride on the starting pitching.  I don’t see it.

 

NL CENTRAL

Cubs 93

Cardinals 84

Brewers 84

Pirates 76

Reds 71

In a nutshell: The Cubs said goodbye to Arrieta and added Darvish and Chatwood.  They said goodbye to Wade Davis as their closer and brought in Morrow.  The team is looking for Schwarber and Russell to bounce back and Ian Happ to continue impressing.  If things mesh, the Cubs will make a strong push for a title.  St. Louis shook up the outfield by moving on from Grichuk and Piscotty and adding Ozuna.  They also appear ready to infuse young guys in the rotation and have revamped the bullpen.  They’ll stay competitive all season but a lot has to go right for them to make the playoffs.  The Brewer rebuild arrived much earlier than expected.  Rather than take a wait and see approach, the front office made some significant moves for 2018 and added Yelich and Cain.  Their outfield is now overstocked which is never a bad thing.  If they can get the same performance or better from their starting pitching, these guys will be right in the playoff hunt.  The Pirates traded away their “ace” (Cole) to the Astros and the face of their franchise (McCutchen).  They appear to be in the “one step back” phase before trying to move “two steps forward”.  The Reds who have been stuck at the bottom for a while are beginning to show some glimmer of hope.  Votto may be the most underrated superstar in the game today, he just needs a supporting cast to finally arrive.  The offense around him is slowly taking shape and it looks like the Reds may have found an ace in Castillo and a lock down closer in Iglesias.  The rest of the rotation and the bullpen?  Best not to get your hopes up.  Thus, another basement finish is likely for Cincy. 

 

NL WEST

Dodgers 96

D Backs 87

Rockies 83

Giants 80

Padres 70

In a nutshell: The Dodgers seem built to contend now and far into the future.  They are deep at almost every position and not only do they have the number one starting pitcher in the game (Kershaw, when healthy) but they also have arguably the game’s number one closer too (Jansen).  The pitching pieces in between these two stars is extremely solid as well.  Although the loss of Turner for about two months (broken wrist) hurts, they have more than enough talent and pieces to run over most opponents.  The D Backs surprised in 2017 but now expectations for a repeat exist. They need a healthy offense (looking at you Pollock) and their starting pitching needs at least a repeat performance of 2017.  If everything breaks right, the D Backs may very well pull off an encore.  The Rockies also surprised many in 2017.  If the offense can perform on the road closer to how it performs at home and the young pitching staff can hold its own through 5 or 6 innings, their loaded bullpen can help nail down victories.  I think the Rockies over-achieved last year and I would be surprised to see them back in the postseason in 2018.  The Giants fell off a cliff last year as an anemic outfield coupled with a largely ineffective pitching staff led to a season San Fran fans would like to forget.  Management brought in McCutchen and Longoria in an attempt to right the struggling offense and things looked a little more hopeful.  However, Bumgarner and Samardzija are shelved for what looks like about 2 months (best case)  due to spring training injuries.  There is not enough pitching to right this ship.  The Padres have a youth movement and the offense has a lot of potential.  However, the starting pitching needs to catch up for them to have any chance at getting out of last place in the NL West.  Hand’s a great closer but I am not sure how many 9th inning leads the Padres are going to have for him to save.    

 

PLAYOFFS:

AL Championship: Astros vs. Yankees

NL Championship: Cubs vs. Dodgers

World Series: Astros vs Dodgers

Champion: Astros over Dodgers 4-2

 

 

Comeback Kid

bog

Xander Bogaerts has had a nice career as a member of the Boston Red Sox.  He arrived in 2013 and helped the team to a World Series victory over the Cardinals. Since then he has picked up two Silver Slugger Awards and has been named to an All Star team once in his four full seasons.  If the 2015 and 2016 seasons were any indication, Bogaerts appeared ready to spend the next decade among the best shortstops in the game.  2017 however, saw Bogaerts take a step back.  Both traditional and newer statistics showed a significant decline.  Although 2017 was a disappointment, there are many reasons to optimistic about his 2018 season.

Bogaerts played a large portion of the 2017 season injured.  Although any injury to a player has the potential to derail a season, Bogaerts’ injury was primarily to his hand.  Hand injuries to hitters can be disastrous and for Bogaerts, the hand injury not only cut his power by more than half but it also hurt his ability to hit for average.  In reading a variety of articles, Bogaerts indicated that he should have gone on the disabled list and given himself a chance to heal rather than playing injured as he ultimately chose to do.  The constant grind of the season clearly took a toll on his ability to produce at the plate.

A quick examination of Bogaerts’ production by month clearly shows a player trying to stay in the lineup while nursing a significant injury (even taking into account his bad luck on balls in play during July).

Month Batting Average Batting Average for Balls In Play On Base Plus Slugging (OPS)
March/April 315 365 731
May 351 418 949
June 277 329 763
July 163 203 452
August 227 278 683
September/Oct 284 325 803

 

Furthermore, a comparison of first and second half statistics for the 2017 season shows a player trying a different approach at the plate to compensate for not being able to hit the ball hard due to his hand injury:

At Bats Batting Average Batting Average for Balls in Play On Base Plus Slugging (OPS) Walks Strikeouts
1st Half 320 303 363 765 25 65
2nd Half 251 235 281 726 31 51

 

Another reason for optimism in 2018 besides a return to health is the hiring of Tim Hyers as the Red Sox’s new hitting coach.  Hyers comes over from the Dodgers where he was an assistant hitting coach.  He is credited for implementing hitting theory and techniques that helped the Dodgers maximize their offensive potential.  In 2017, the Dodgers set a franchise record for homers, doubles, and extra base hits.  Even though the Dodgers were blessed with a good deal of talent and the baseball liked to travel in 2017, the effect Hyers had on the approach the Dodgers took to the plate can’t be overlooked.  It is likely that the Red Sox, especially Bogaerts, will benefit from his tutelage.  Perhaps Bogaerts will be more cognizant of his swing plane and launch angle and join the home run party that the league has been throwing for the past two years.

The third reason Bogaerts in a strong candidate to bounce back this season is youth being on his side.  Although it seems like Bogaerts has been around awhile, 2018 will be just his age 25 season.  At age 25, a number of solid prospects are just breaking into the big leagues.  Bogaerts has both experience and youth and the potential to grow as a hitter.  Many young players need time to adjust to the major leagues but Bogaerts is already a seasoned veteran.  The pitching within the A.L. East has not dramatically changed or improved from 2017 to 2018 and his knowledge of the divisional rival pitching staffs will help him better execute his hitting plan at the plate when he matches up with familiar foes.

The final reason I see Bogaerts putting together a great 2018 is bit more nebulous than the prior reasons.  I think 2018 is going to be much better for Bogaerts because the Red Sox offense as a group is ready to improve from 2017.  Last year was the first season without David Ortiz and it appears as though his teammates were scrambling to reproduce what he had brought to the team both on and off the field.  Players tried on different roles, some of them comfortable and some less comfortable – some new roles stuck and some were discarded.  After a year of searching, the team appears to be more stable as it enters this year.  J.D. Martinez is the new power bat, Andrew Benintendi is ready to improve on an impressive rookie season, and Rafael Devers is ready to take over third base and stabilize what was one of, if not the most, problematic area for the 2017 Red Sox.  These factors all combine to create an environment and opportunity for Bogaerts to just be Bogaerts at the plate and not have to push or try to do too much.  Being able to play healthy and within himself will allow Xander to get back on track and put together what I believe will be the comeback of the year.

bog1

There are a number of projection systems and models out there.  Two of the more commonly referenced ones are Marcels and Steamer.  So what do these two systems envision for Bogaerts in 2018?

The Marcels Projection System predicts:

Homers RBI Steals Batting Avg OPS Walks Strikeouts
13 70 11 292 786 47 104

 

Steamer Projection System predicts:

Homers RBI Steals Batting Avg OPS Walks Strikeouts
15 72 10 289 797 49 98

 

Both models see a solid bounce back.  However, I think he will perform even better.  My projection for Bogaerts in 2018:

Homers RBI Steals Batting Avg OPS Walks Strikeouts
19 84 15 300 805 60 98

 

The statistics Xander Bogaerts’ accumulates are bound to vary depending on where in the line-up he ultimately bats.  During the 2017 season, Bogaerts hit all over the line up.  During spring training he appears to be getting consistent work in the six spot.  Since no official announcement has been made by the Red Sox, it is unclear whether Bogaerts will continue to bat sixth to begin the season as well as whether he will remain in that spot throughout the 2018 season.  Regardless of where he ends up in the batting order, 2018 is going to be a return to form for Bogaerts and will be a reminder to baseball fans just how star studded the shortstop position is in today’s game.

 

No Sweat Inning- MLB 2017

Quirky data is always fun to look at.  I decided to sort through the 2017 pitching data to find the “No Sweat Inning”.  The No Sweat Inning identifies the pitcher who needed the fewest pitches to complete a full inning of work.  Pitchers who inherited baserunners, had the benefit of a double play, or had a runner caught stealing were excluded from consideration as a “No Sweat” pitcher gets no help in getting three outs.  Below are the candidates:

sam

Sam Tuivailala (Cardinals): in a 6 – 0 loss to the Reds on 9/13/17, Tuivailala pitched the 8th inning.  4 pitches, 4 strikes, 3 outs.

britton

Zach Britton (Orioles): in a 3 – 2 loss to the Indians on 9/10/17, Britton pitched the 8th inning.  4 pitches, 3 strikes, 3 outs.

gearrin

Cory Gearrin (Giants): in a 5 – 0 loss to the Padres on 8/30/17, Gearrin pitched the 7th inning.  4 pitches, 4 strikes, 3 outs.

rogers

Taylor Rogers (Twins): in a 9-6 win over the Orioles on 7/7/17, Rogers pitched the 8th inning and picked up a Hold.  4 pitches, 4 strikes, 3 outs.

hernandez

Ariel Hernandez (Reds): in an 8 – 3 loss to the Rays on 6/21/2017, Hernandez pitched the 8th inning.  4 pitches, 3 strikes, 3 outs.

saupold

Warwick Saupold (Tigers): in a 9 – 1 loss to the Rays on 6/18/17, Saupold pitched the 8th inning.  4 pitches, 4 strikes, 3 outs.

siegrist

Kevin Siegrist (Cardinals): in an 8 – 5 loss to the Brewers on 6/13/2017, Siegrist pitched the 7th inning.  4 pitches, 4 strikes, 3 outs.

jose alv

Jose Alvarado (Rays): in a 2 – 0 loss to the Brewers on 8/4/17, Alvarado pitched the 9th inning.  9 pitches, 3 strikeouts.

storen

Drew Storen (Reds): in a 9-3 win over the Orioles on 4/18/17, Storen pitched the 9th inning.  9 pitches, 3 strikeouts.

 

hardy

Doesn’t fit but amazing: Blaine Hardy on 5/14/17 for Tigers against Angels.  1 IP, 2 pitches (both strikes).  1 inherited runner. 1 Grounded into double play and 1 pitch to get the other batter he faced.  These three outs came over the span of 2 separate innings (2/3 of the 7th and 1/3 of the 8th).

 

 

Thanks to baseball-reference.com PLAY INDEX

Follow me on Twitter@doctordaver

 

Career Day – MLB 2017

There were many amazing offensive performances in 2017. But which hitter had the best day at the plate in 2017? Although there are a number of ways to characterize “best day” I used the following criteria:

1 – The player batted at least 5 times in the game.
2 – The player recorded a hit in every at bat he had in the game.
3 – The player had at least 10 total bases.

These parameters left me with 4 candidates – Scooter Gennett, Anthony Rendon, Jose Ramirez, and Andrew Benintendi. Here’s a summary of each player’s day at the dish.

 

gennett

On June 6th, 2017, Gennett’s Reds beat the Cardinals 13-1. Gennett went 5 for 5 with 4 runs, 4 home runs, 10 RBI, and 17 total bases.

rendon

On April 30th, 2017, Rendon and the Nationals spanked the Mets 23-5. Rendon went 6 for 6 with 5 runs, 1 double, three home runs, 10 RBI, and 16 total bases.

jose ramirez

On September 3rd, 2017 Ramirez and the Indians beat the Tigers 11-1. Ramirez went 5 for 5 with 3 runs, 3 doubles, 2 home runs, 3 RBI and 14 total bases.

benintendi

On July 4th, 2017, Benintendi and the Red Sox handled the Rangers 11-4. The rookie went 5 for 5 with 4 runs, 1 double, 2 home runs, 6 RBI, and 12 total bases.

These are four performances any ballplayer would love to add to his resume.  To put games likes these into perspective – in 2017, there were 15 players who had over 250 at bats that hit 4 or fewer homeruns for the entire season.  Of the 15 players, eight hit 2 or fewer homeruns in 2017.
Now, consider the days that Gennett, Rendon, Ramirez, and Benintendi had with the bat and then please vote for whom you think had the most impressive day at the plate.

 

Follow me on Twitter @doctordaver

Re-examining Saves – 2017 Season

The save statistic is flawed and tells us little about a closing pitcher’s effectiveness.  In order to better gauge the performance of the pitchers that populated the saves leaderboard, I developed three ways to explore their performance.  In a previous post, I examined relief pitcher performance for the 2015 and 2016 seasons.  In this post, I review the 2017 saves leaderboard using the three methods.

The first method for examining closer performance is to sort each save a pitcher earned into 5 different categories.

The criteria for each save category:

Ultra Save = no walks, no hits, no HBP (no baserunners), at least 1 IP, struck out all batters faced, earned the save.

Power Save = no walks, no hits, no HBP (no baserunners), at least 1 IP, at least 1 K, earned the save.

Plain Save = no walks, no hits, no HBP (no baserunners), at least 1 IP, no Ks, earned the save.

Ugly Save = at least one hit, at least one run, no Ks, at least 1 IP, earned the save.

Disaster Save = at least two hits, at least two runs, no strikeouts, earned the save.

 

Here is the 2017 Save Leaderboard sorted by total saves earned as well as a tally of saves meeting the criteria for each of the five types:

 

2017 Saves Leaders

Name   Saves/save Op      Ultra             Power             Plain                Ugly            Disaster

Colome 47/53                      1                      6                       6                      5                       1

Holland 41/45                     2                    11                       5                      1                       1

Jansen 41/42                        5                      9                      4                      0                        0

Osuna 39/49                         2                    12                     5                       0                       0

Knebel 39/45                        0                      7                     2                       0                       0

Rodney 39/45                       2                      9                     3                       1                       0

Kimbrel 35/39                      5                    10                     1                       1                       0

Diaz 34/39                             1                    16                     0                       0                       0

Giles 34/38                            1                     8                       2                       1                       0

Davis 32/33                           1                     6                       5                       1                       1

Allen 30/34                           0                     11                     2                       0                       0

Kintzler 29/35                      0                       3                     3                       0                       0

Iglesias 28/30                       0                       3                     2                       1                       0

Ramos 27/30                        0                       6                     1                       1                       0

Herrera 26/31                      0                       3                     4                       1                       0

Neris 26/29                           1                       6                     3                       2                       0

Doolittle 24/26                     2                        7                    0                       2                       0

Chapman 22/26                   0                         5                   2                       0                       0

Johnson 22/31                      0                         6                   3                       1                       1

Maurer 22/26                       1                         5                   3                       0                       0

Hand 21/26                           1                        10                  0                       2                       0

Rivero 21/23                         1                         6                   0                       0                       0

Oh 20/24                                0                         0                   3                       1                       0

Norris 19/23                          0                         5                   1                      0                        0

Reed 19/21                             0                         3                   2                      1                        0

colome Colome led all of baseball with 47 saves in 2017.

My 5 save type model is based on the notion that the key characteristic of a closer is dominance.  In the 9th inning of a 1, 2, or 3 run game, any type of baserunner is a hazard to a team looking to shut the door on an opponent.  Thus, my save model rewards pitchers who do not allow balls in play (valuing the safest out – the strikeout) and avoid baserunners of any kind (HBP, walks, hits).  Greater penalties are given to pitchers based on the level that they violate these two criteria.

Keeping dominance in mind, there are a number of ways to utilize my data system to achieve a better understanding of the quality of each closer.  The first way is to award a number value to each type of save and then tally the points.  The values I gave each of the five possible save types are listed below:

Ultra = 3

Power = 2

Plain = 1

Ugly = -1

Disaster = -2

Utilizing the second method to examine closer performance, the Quality of Save leaderboard re-ranks the top 25 list.

Based on the new point total for Quality of Save, the 2017 leaderboard looks like this:

Saves/Save Opps.                        Quality Save Score                                               Rank Change

1 Jansen  41/42                                               37                                                                       +1

2 Osuna  39/49                                               35                                                                       +2

2 Kimbrel  35/39                                            35                                                                       +5

2 Diaz  34/39                                                   35                                                                       +6

5 Holland  41/45                                            30                                                                       -3

6 Rodney  39/45                                             26                                                                       -2

7 Allen  30/34                                                 24                                                                       +4

8 Hand  21/26                                                 21                                                                       +13

9 Giles  34/38                                                  20                                                                       -1

10 Doolittle  24/26                                         18                                                                       +7

11 Davis  32/33                                               17                                                                       -1

12 Knebel  39/45                                            16                                                                       -8

12 Neris  26/29                                               16                                                                       +3

12 Maurer  22/26                                           16                                                                       +6

15 Rivero  21/23                                             15                                                                       +6

16 Colome  47/53                                           14                                                                       -15

17 Chapman  22/26                                        12                                                                       +1

17 Ramos  27/30                                             12                                                                       -3

17 Johnson  22/31                                           12                                                                       +1

20 Norris  19/23                                              11                                                                       +4

21 Herrera  26/31                                            9                                                                         -6

21 Kintzler  29/35                                            9                                                                         -9

23 Iglesias  28/30                                             7                                                                         -10

23 Reed  19/21                                                  7                                                                         +1

25 Oh  20/24                                                      2                                                                        -2

jansen Jansen led all of baseball with a 37 quality save score in 2017.

This rating system gives a more accurate picture of player performance than using only save totals.  However, there is another adjustment that makes the rankings even more descriptive.  The third method is to apply a 1 point penalty for each blown save.  When this is executed, the 2017 leader board shifts again and creates a much clearer picture of closer dominance than raw save totals.

Saves/Save Opps.                        Quality Save Score                     New Point Total

1 Jansen  41/42                                             37                                           36

2 Kimbrel  35/39                                          35                                            31

3 Diaz  34/39                                                 35                                           30

4 Holland  41/45                                           30                                           26

5 Osuna  39/49                                              35                                           25

6 Rodney  39/45                                            26                                           20

6 Allen  30/34                                                24                                           20

8 Giles  34/38                                                 20                                           16

8 Davis  32/33                                                17                                           16

8 Doolittle  24/26                                           18                                          16

8 Hand  21/26                                                 21                                          16

12 Rivero  21/23                                             15                                          13

12 Neris  26/29                                               16                                          13

14 Maurer  22/26                                           16                                          12

15 Knebel  39/45                                            16                                          10

16 Ramos  27/30                                            12                                           9

17 Colome  47/53                                           14                                           8

17 Chapman  22/26                                       12                                           8

19 Norris  19/23                                             11                                           7

20 Iglesias  28/30                                           7                                             5

20 Reed  19/21                                                7                                             5

22 Herrera  26/31                                           9                                             4

23 Kintzler  29/35                                           9                                             3

23 Johnson  22/31                                        12                                              3

25 Oh  20/24                                                    2                                             -2

jansen Jansen still maintains the top slot for his work in 2017.

Another way to analyze the 2017 save leaders performance using my 5 save type method is adding the number of Ultra and Power saves together.  This gives a snapshot of how dominant a closer has been while in save situations.  Using just these two categories, the 2017 dominant save leaders were (total and % of saves that were dominant are both reported below):

Name                   Ultra & PowerSvs Combo Total                   % of overall svs Ultra+Power

Hand  21/26                          11 of 21                                                                             52.3%

Diaz  34/39                            17 of 34                                                                             50%

Kimbrel  35/39                      15 of 35                                                                            42.8%

Doolittle  24/26                      9 of 24                                                                             37.5%

Allen  30/34                           11 of 30                                                                            36.6%

Osuna  39/49                         14 of 39                                                                            35.8%

Jansen  41/42                        14 of 41                                                                            34.1%

Holland  41/45                      13 of 41                                                                            31.7%

Rivero  21/23                          7 of 21                                                                             33.3%

Rodney  39/45                      11 of 39                                                                             28.2%

Johnson  22/31                     6 of 22                                                                               27.2%

Maurer  22/26                       6 of 22                                                                              27.2%

Neris  26/29                           7 of 26                                                                              26.9%

Giles  34/38                            9 of 34                                                                              26.4%

Norris  19/23                         5 of 19                                                                              26.3%

Chapman  22/26                   5 of 22                                                                              22.7%

Ramos  27/30                        6 of 27                                                                              22.2%

Davis  32/33                           7 of 32                                                                             21.8%

Knebel  39/45                        7 of 39                                                                             17.9%

Reed  19/21                           3 of 19                                                                              15.7%

Colome  47/53                      7 of 47                                                                              14.8%

Herrera  26/31                      3 of 26                                                                             11.5%

Iglesias  28/30                       3 of 28                                                                             10.7%

Kintzler  29/35                      3 of 29                                                                             10.3%

Oh  20/24                                0 of 20                                                                               0%

hand Over 52 percent of Hand’s saves were of the Ultra or Power type in 2017.

 

Click here for a look at the 2015 and 2016 MLB Saves Leaders using the same methodology.

Follow me on Twitter @doctordaver

Big thanks to baseball-reference.com and their Play Index.

Miami Marlins: Second Verse Same as the First – A Little Bit Louder and a Little Bit Worse

When Jeffrey Loria agreed to sell the Marlins, baseball breathed a collective sigh of relief.  One of the cheapest and most poorly run franchises would finally be turned over to an ownership group that would hopefully treat the team as more than just a financial asset.   Ownership that would invest in the major and minor league roster?  A front office that might hold on to talent rather than add and then quickly divest?  Could good will develop between Miami and its team again?

The Marlins’ fan base should be extremely upset with what has played out since the new ownership group has taken over.  However, there doesn’t appear to be any Marlins fans left to care.  But for those of us who are fans of baseball in general, the off season moves that this team has made appear lack-luster at best and complete salary dumps at worst.

There are questions regarding who within the ownership group is exactly making these unpopular decisions and trades.  Derek Jeter has been the face/mouthpiece for the team and as a result he has become a lightning rod for criticism.  Regardless of whether he is the party to blame for these moves is unimportant.  What matters is that this ownership group does not seem to be charting a new course for the organization. These moves could be commended if the new owners were getting out from under bad contracts.  However, the contracts that have been moved (Gordon, Stanton, and Ozuna) were not bad contracts.  They may have been the team’s more expensive commitments but the players appeared to be well worth their price.

Compiling a talented outfield like the Marlins had is extremely difficult for a front office to accomplish. Although the former Marlins’ regime had made a number of decisions/moves that ranged from questionable to bone-headed, the one thing that they did do well was assemble an extremely talented group of starting outfielders.  There is no question that a team has to move valuable pieces in order to get value in return when making a trade, but the loss of this stacked outfield will have a crippling effect on the offensive production and defensive value of the team going forward.  The return the Marlins have to show for these moves is not worth the opportunity cost of moving on from a talented outfield core, the ill will the organization generated among hopeful fans (if there were any left), and the poison that has affected the remaining talent (Yelich and Realmuto).

stanton                         ozuna                         yelich

The disservice that the current ownership group has done to the team cannot be understated.  They have disassembled what was the most productive trio of outfielders during 2017 in all of MLB.  The pretense that these moves were made to get younger/build the farm system up/prepare for contention down the road is misleading.  It is an easy excuse for the underlying cheapness of the organization.

Here is a breakdown of 2017 outfield production around the league.  Highlighted are the number of games played by each team’s three primary outfielders, their overall OPS+ (number of games played helps put this number into better prospective), and total Wins Above Replacement (WAR) with offensive WAR an defensive WAR broken down.

2017 Outfield Performance:

Team: Marlins

marlins

Player———-Games Played—– OPS+—– WAR—– Offensive WAR—– Defensive WAR

Stanton            159                           165            7.6               6.5                             0.4

Ozuna               159                           145            5.8               4.8                             0.4

Yelich                156                           117            3.9               4.5                            -0.3

This is a relatively young outfield.  In 2017 these three players remained in excellent health.  Their strong OPS+ showing is based on a large number of games played.  WAR indicates that all three outfielders were above average (especially on offense) and that all three performed without issue in the field.  As you will see in the following comparisons, this outfield could have been the envy of the league for years to come.

 

Team: Red Sox

red-sox

Player———- Games Played—– OPS+—– WAR—– Offensive WAR—– Defensive WAR

Betts                     153                         108            6.4               3.3                             2.6

Bradley Jr.          133                          89             2.8               1.9                             1.3

Benintendi         151                        103             2.6               1.9                             0.4

Benintendi put up a solid rookie season but Bradley Jr. missed time and came back down to his career levels of production after a great 2016.  Betts still produced on offense and in the field but his OPS+ shows that he was much closer to league average (due to the inflated offensive totals of the league) than he has been in the past.   

 

Team: Astros

astros

Player———- Games Played—– OPS+—– WAR—– Offensive WAR—– Defensive WAR

Springer              140                        144            5.0                 5.2                           -0.3

Reddick               134                        134            4.4                 4.0                           -0.2

Aoki                       70                          98             0.7                 0.3                            0.1

Gonzalez              48                         150           4.3                 4.7                           -0.4

*Gonzalez played many positions for the Astros and is added to the outfield list as Aoki was traded on July 31st.  Gonzalez played the outfield 17 times after Aoki was traded.

The world champs had two regular and one rotating third member comprising their outfield.  Springer put up an extremely solid campaign and Reddick, although undervalued and mostly ignored by the media, was very good as well.  Gonzalez (see notation above) played a variety of positions and had his best offensive season ever.  However, he did not put in enough time to be considered a regular outfielder.

 

Team: Dodgers

dodgers

Player———- Games Played—– OPS+—– WAR—– Offensive WAR—– Defensive WAR

Taylor                 140 (96 in OF)          122            4.8                    4.2                          0.7

Pederson           102                              95           -0.4                    0.9                         -1.1

Puig                    152                             118           3.7                     1.9                          1.3

*Taylor Played 96 games in the Outfield.  His OPS+ and WAR statistics are based on his entire 140 games played.

World Series runners up had mixed results in their outfield.  Puig bounced back and Taylor came out of nowhere to put up significant numbers.  However, like Gonzalez in Houston, he played a variety of positions.  His statistics above reflect his entire production for the season, not just his outfield work so on paper, the outfield looks a bit better than it actually fared over the course of the season.  Pederson’s production with the bat continued to decline and the defensive metrics did not like his glove work either.

 

Team: Diamondbacks

diamondbacks

Player———- Games Played—– OPS+—– WAR—– Offensive WAR—– Defensive WAR

Pollock                 112                         99             2.9                 2.2                            0.9

Peralta                 140                         99             2.5                 1.9                            0.0

Tomas                    47                         87            -0.5                 0.2                           -0.8

Martinez                62                       168            2.6                 2.5                           -0.2

*Tomas was initially in the team’s starting OF.  Martinez was traded to the D-Backs on July 18th and his statistics are reflective only of his performance with the D-Backs.

A.J. Pollock looked good when healthy but continued to experience injuries that limited him to 112 games total.  The less that can be said about Tomas (especially his defensive work), the better.  J.D. Martinez came over in mid-July and continued to rake like he did in Detroit (and he also continued to play below average defense).  Peralta was his solid self.

 

Team: Rockies  

rockies

Player———- Games Played—– OPS+—– WAR—– Offensive WAR—– Defensive WAR

Parra                      115                       94             0.9                   0.3                         0.0

Blackmon              159                     142            6.0                   6.5                        -0.2

Gonzalez               136                       87            -0.2                   0.1                       -0.9

The Rockies usually sport a power-packed outfield.  One would think that their return to the post-season in 2017 would mean the outfield produced.  However, besides Blackmon, who put up impressive numbers, the two other players garnering the most outfield work failed to do much.  Gonzalez had a particularly poor year ending the season with negative value and a below average OPS+. 

 

Team: Brewers

brewers

Player———- Games Played—– OPS+—– WAR—– Offensive WAR—– Defensive WAR

Braun                   104                        111            1.2                  1.7                         -0.9

Broxton                143                         85              0.4                  1.2                        -0.6

Santana               151                        126             3.0                 3.5                         -1.1

The Brewers surprised the league in 2017.  They have a number of young exciting players with significant upside.  A review of their outfield however, shows that they are a butcher shop in the field.  Braun continued to battle injuries and played in only 104 games.  Broxton was streaky (to the point of a minor-league demotion) while Santana broke out in his first year as an every day player and had a big offensive year.

 

Team: Rays

rays

Player———- Games Played—– OPS+—– WAR—– Offensive WAR—– Defensive WAR

Dickerson                  150                   120            2.7                    2.8                          -0.9

Kiermaier                   98                    114            5.1                    2.9                           2.5

Souza                         148                   121             4.2                    3.5                           0.2

The Rays have a quietly solid outfield.  All three regulars put up above average seasons (by OPS+ and WAR) in 2017 however, Kiermaier couldn’t stay healthy again.  This trio would be even more impressive as group if Dickerson played better defense and Kiermaier could play 145 games or more per year.  There is a lot to like about these three going into 2018.  Although they were good, they were not ‘Marlins outfield’ good.

 

Team: Yankees

yanks

Player———- Games Played—– OPS+—– WAR—– Offensive WAR—– Defensive WAR

Ellsbury                    112                      97            1.7                 2.1                           -0.1

Gardner                   151                     104           4.9                 2.8                            1.6

Judge                         155                     171           8.1                 7.2                           0.3

Hicks                           88                      122           3.9                 2.4                           1.5

*Ellsbury played 97 games in Centerfield.  Hicks played 52 games in Centerfield.

The addition of Stanton (from the aforementioned Marlins) will likely be a huge upgrade for the Bombers as long as he remains healthy.  How they will deploy Judge and Stanton in the same outfield should be interesting.  Ellsbury continued to be injured and came nowhere close to producing the value the team expected when he was signed as a free agent.  Hicks, when healthy, had a surprisingly good year with his bat and in the field.  Gardner remained consistent and had another solid season putting up a 20-20 campaign.  2018 will be his age 34 season.

As this look around the league shows, the Marlins have decided to squander one of the few advantages they possessed.  By choosing the break up an elite outfield unit, Jeter and company have demonstrated that saving money and trading production for lottery tickets is more important than retaining an exciting core and building around them.  If this new Marlins’ regime continues to operate like Loria’s group, losing fans and games will continue to plague Miami.      

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Line Up Construction 101 – Some Theories, Some Research, Some Thoughts

managers book

As Many Options as There are Stars in the Sky

In Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers from 1870 to Today (Scribner, 1997), James examines the multitude of options a manager has when constructing a line up.  He writes on page 20 that there are 741,354,768,000 different ways to create a nine player line up from a twenty five man roster.  Then, taking into account factors such as defensive position the options are reduced.  “If you have a roster of fourteen position players and eleven pitchers and you assume that only one pitcher will start, that reduced the options for the starting lineup from seven hundred billion to one billion.  If you assume that only certain players can catch, only certain players can play the outfield, etc., that reduces the options further; heck you can get down to a few million in no time.”

A few million options for a team’s manager to decide from seems more theoretical exercise in thinking than true game planning but there are in fact millions of options that can be picked from.  Helping to reduce the demand on one’s brain is the reality that teams often have at least one or two superstars locked in at a certain fielding position (ex. Joey Votto playing first base for the Reds) and/or a starter that is clearly the number one option when compared to other pitching options (Madison Bumgarner of the Giants).  The most ‘play’ a manager appears to have is with the batting order and the value he places on batting versus fielding options or platoon possibilities when determining his optimal line up.

bumgarner  votto-2

 

The Impact on Statistics Based on Where One Bats in the Order

There is a good deal of research that has been completed in recent years looking at the effect that the spot in a batting line-up has on a hitter’s statistics.  The research is clear – batting earlier in the line-up leads to more at bats over the course of a season (gaining an estimated 14 to 18 at bats per slot with each move up the order – going from batting 9th to 8th to 7th etc.).  Moving from 9th to 1st for example would lead to an estimated additional 112 to 144 at bats.  That is an extremely significant difference that is not lost on intelligent front offices and managers.

To take advantage of these additional at bats, managers have to use the right assessment tools in order to select an appropriate candidate.  For instance, using On Base Percentage (OBP) has become more widely accepted as a measure for determining who might help the team the most with an additional 100-140 at bats in a season while batting average, seen by many as a ‘noisy’ statistic that is likely to fluctuate more than the OBP statistic as well as a statistic that misses a large chunk of the ability of a batter to get on base, is used much less often.  Still, there are some managers who pay less attention to OPB when selecting a lead off man than their peers (see Dusty Baker’s use of sub.300 OBP Ben Revere in 2016).  Batting a sub .300 OBP hitter first or second in the order, regardless of the other skills that this player might possess, is to the detriment of the team’s offensive output.

revere

Additionally, raw speed is no longer enough for a player to grab the leadoff spot.  Now, managers need to consider stolen base opportunity and success rate as well as a player’s overall ability on the base paths (ex. the ability to successfully take an extra base – such as going from 1st to 3rd on a single with regularity).  You likely won’t see a leadoff hitter with stats like Omar Moreno’s 1980 season (.306 OBP, 96 stolen bases/33 caught stealing, and striking out approximately 2 times for each walk (101 vs. 57).  96 steals look nice on paper but succeeding less than 66% of the time a steal is attempted is detrimental to a team’s ability to score runs especially when that lead off man is only on base approximately 30 percent of the time in the first place.

moreno

Research also indicates that the place where one bats in the line-up significantly impacts multiple counting statistics including Runs scored and Runs Batted In.  There seems to be some debate regarding the number of stolen bases attempted based on where a player bats (T. Cockcroft doesn’t find line up spot significant in relation to the stolen base but T. Bell who uses a more in depth calculation formula finds a significant difference – in reviewing the methodology of both I tend to give more weight to T. Bell’s results).

Future Research Incorporating All of the Above

Given the above, the manager (or front office) has a good deal of influence on both player and team production when making decisions on where to bat each player.  An interesting study to examine line up construction’s impact in a pennant race would be to examine the 2007 Phillies and Mets.  The Phillies erased a 7 game deficit in the final 17 games and ultimately captured the N.L. East pennant.  Could a different line up construction for the Mets during the final 17 games have kept them atop the East?  Did the Phillies maximize their offense in just the right way as they made their final push?  It would be very interesting to explore what decisions were implemented and then evaluate that process rather than just relying on the final standings to determine whether rosters were used to maximum effectiveness or not.  Was the Mets’ line up construction sound and their failure based on atypical lack of production or did the Mets mismanage their line up and ultimately have only themselves to blame for their collapse?

Proactive and Reactive Decision Making

Second guessing line-up construction and in game decisions are two favorite activities for disgruntled fans and armchair G.M.s.  When looking at manager competency, perhaps it is best to separately examine proactive decision making abilities (line up construction) versus reactive decision making abilities (in game moves).  It seems likely that these are two very different managerial abilities and ballgames can be won or lost based on either or a combination of these two decision types.

With hundreds of thousands/millions of options available to consider, it is little wonder why each person believes their strategy makes them the smartest person in the room and why other guys/teams just don’t have a clue.  Research has shown the impact of both line-up construction and, to a lesser extent, in game decision making.  Although a good deal of line up construction research has been conducted in regards to player valuation within fantasy baseball, the results have implications that cannot be ignored by MLB teams.  A more systemic analysis of line up decisions could yield a tremendous amount of data and help better evaluate managers and front offices in the real world.