Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Santana on the Move

This is a short post about a recent offseason move. Since the 2012 MLB season has officially concluded, and the offseason has begun, I will mix in short posts that concern the day-to-day activities going on in Major League Baseball as well as continue to write longer more feature pieces. 

Today the Kansas City Royals, a team that finished 2013 3rd in the AL Central with a 72-90 record, acquired right-handed pitcher Ervin Santana. Santana has played his entire career with the Angels, progressing well from a middle-of-the-rotation starter to a reliable #2 pitcher until last year's abysmal performance. Santana has compiled at least a 2.0 fWAR every season in which he threw at least 200 innings, showing signs that last season may have been an anomaly. Last season, in 178.0 innings pitched, Santana compiled a -0.9 fWAR, a 6.72 K/9, awful 1.97 HR/9, and an FIP of 5.63. Santana’s changeup percentage (the percent of his pitches that were changeups) rose from 3.2% to 7.3%. In addition, his fastball is not rated well, so he relied on his above average slider to get him out of trouble, but the pitch is more of a strikeout pitch meant to make batter miss. Hitters would sit on his slider, and if it was in the zone crush it, as it came in at about 83 mph. Overall, Santana was plagued by not adapting. His walk rate, WHIP, and hits per 9 innings were close to his career average, but his home run rate rose drastically. Santana stopped getting lucky, got hit hard pitching in a very good division in 2012, and could not change his pitching to combat the hitters success.

The Royals were quite obvious in their intentions for the offseason, stating that the starting rotation would be their focus. The team has built a strong young core of hitters including Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas, but needed upgrades in their starting rotations, as a number of young arms haven’t panned out, or took steps back last season. Mike Montgomery cough, cough. In return for Santana, the Angels received left-handed prospect Brandon Sisk. He has developed well in the minors as a lefty specialist out of the bullpen, but might not have won a spot in KC’s pen in 2013. The Angels bullpen was their Achilles’ heel last season, and with so many large contracts to pay out, the Angels welcome a young, cheap lefty meant for relief pitching. For a more detailed scouting report of Sisk, click here.

Santana joins a rotation that included such pitchers as Jeremy Guthrie, Luke Hochevar, Luis Mendoza, Felipe Paulino, and Bruce Chen. This staff combined for a 7.7 fWAR and a 4.59 FIP, making this move a cost-effective way for Dayton Moore and the Royals to upgrade their pitching staff. The common maxim is to buy low and sell high, and the Royals did just that, trading for Santana when his stock couldn’t be any lower. More importantly, in a fairly weak division that saw the no team win 90 games, smaller acquisitions like this might make more of a difference in the long run. Santana will earn $13 million in 2013, which will most likely exceed his worth. The fact that the Royals will most likely overpay Santana is the price they pay for giving up such a minor prospect. It’s possible that Santana may have needed a change in venue to get his career back on track. After signing C.J. Wilson, resigning Jared Weaver, and trading for Zack Greinke, the Angels rotation was stock full of good arms, leaving Santana as “just another pitcher”. Oftentimes this can derail a younger less mature pitcher to not work as hard. Now that Santana will be featured in the front of the Royals rotation, his work ethic, desire, and ability to adjust should improve.

Overall this is a good move for both sides. The Angels free up some money to further improve their bullpen, as well as add a solid young arm at a low cost to compete for a spot in the 2013 pen. The Royals add a proven starter to their rotation and give up very little. This is a better move than trading for Jonathan Sanchez, a move the Royals made last offseason. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

It All Comes Down To This

Tonight it begins. The World Series is the big, flashy, and exciting number that ends the musical that is the Major League Baseball season. In the spring, 29 teams set forth to conquer the baseball world, and one set forth to re-conquer it. The 750 players who began the season on the 25-man rosters of each team clawed tooth and nail, legging out doubles on bloop hits to the outfield, running from left-centerfield all the way to right-center to make a diving catch, and blocking every breaking ball in the dirt in order to attain baseball glory. Unfortunately, for all but 50 this season did not turn out the way they had hoped. Injuries, coaching changes, trades, interviews gone wrong, hanging breaking balls, mental errors, and of course randomness caused 28 teams to falter, and only two to prevail.

The Detroit Tigers and San Francisco Giants will begin the 2012 World Series tonight in the chilly city by the bay to duke it out for the right to be crowned 2012 champions. So, there is little left to do but evaluate the two teams, and pick a winner, knowing that the chances of the series playing out like any of us think it will is ludicrous. Let's go step-by-step, and delve into each team, by looking at their starting rotations, offenses, bullpens, and defenses, to see which team should be more hopeful entering the World Series.

Starting Rotations:

Justin Verlander
In order to get this far, both teams must have good pitching, it is far to difficult win games without above-average pitching. In general, there are three types of outs, ground balls, balls in the air, and strikeouts. Pitchers control strikeouts without the aid of their defense, which makes them quite valuable. Also, the lack of a ball being put in play leaves little room for mistakes, or freak hits like the one that hit Hunter Pence's bat three times before landing in play. The Tigers not only have the best pitcher in the series, Justin Verlander, but they have the two top starters in terms of strikeouts. Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander each had K/9 above 9.00 this season, something no other starter in this series can claim. Consequently these two starters rank 1st and 3rd in fastball usage amongst the other starters in this series, meaning they come at the hitters trying to blow them away, as well as set up their off-speed stuff.  In fact, three of the Tigers four starters have the lowest contact percentages of the pitchers in the series, while all 4 Giants pitchers get contact on 80% of pitches they throw. All 4 Giants starters had 90 or higher FIP- this season while all four Tigers hurlers had sub 90 FIP-.

Tigers pitchers don't allow many base runners, but when they do, only Justin Verlander is able to pitch well with runners on. Fister, Sanchez, and Scherzer give up wOBA's of .310 or greater with runners on base while no Giants starter has a wOBA that high with runners on. So, if the Tigers can keep men off base, they should perform well, but when the Giants pitchers run into trouble, they prove up to the task of keeping production down. So, a good strategy might be to allow Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder to reach base, but then shut down the rest of the Detroit offense. The same sentiment is true in high leverage situations. The Giants starters, as a group, have a lower wOBA against in more pressure filled situations than do their American League counterparts.

Overall, it seems like these two teams' starters each have their own distinct strengths and weaknesses. The one factor that truly favors the Tigers is that they begin the series with Justin Verlander, and if Jim Leyland decides it is best, he can have Justin start game 1, game 4, and game 7. The Giants counter with Barry Zito in game one, having used Matt Cain to secure the NL pennant in game 7 of the NLCS, and thus would be at a disadvantage. On the other hand, the only team to use a three man rotation in the last 3 World Series was the 2009 Yankees, so the trend is to use a four man group. In the end, this is the playoffs, and it isn't about power pitching as much as it is about smart pitching. The Giants 4 pitchers all deal well with base runners, men in scoring position, and pressure filled situations, three situations that arrise often when two evenly matched squads play. I give a slight advantage to San Francisco's staff.


A team's offense has many parts to it. Some teams hit better for power, others have higher on base percentages, some cause opposing pitchers to work harder than usual. A team's offense is often built around the park in which the team plays. The Giants play in spacious AT&T Park, which yielded the fewest home runs in the majors this season, thus their lineup isn't filled with sluggers like Miggy Cabrera and Prince Fielder, but instead with hitters who make more contact like Marco Scutaro, Angel Pagan, and Buster Posey. The Tigers play in a spacious park as well, but they were able to hit 163 home runs this season in comparison to the Giants who managed only 103, good for last in the Majors.

Buster Posey

Contact %
This chart shows where the two offenses stood in during the season. In order to get this far, the Giants offense has used its strengths. They do a great job of making contact, not striking out, hitting line drives, and most importantly, performing well in the clutch. The Tigers offense looks to score most of its runs when Austin Jackson, Quintin Berry, and Omar Infante reach base because the two hitters that follow them produced the most runs of any two hitters in MLB this season. Cabrera and Fielder will provide the best at-bats in the World Series, but those at bats mean much less if the Giants can keep the hitters who precede them in the lineup from reaching base safely. The more games played in the series, the more it favors the Giants offense, due to their much-increased ability to put the ball in play. On the other hand, the Tigers offense is far superior to the Giants in high leverage situations, and with runners on base. So, if the Tigers can get men on base, their offense has a great chance to do some damage. Overall, offensively, the Tigers have the advantage. Even if this series only goes 5 games, it will be difficult to keep Jackson, Berry, and Infante from reaching base, which makes it more difficult to pitch to Cabrera and Fielder. The Giants pitching is very good, but I don't think it can hold the Detroit hitters from scoring runs.

Relief Pitching:

When it comes to bullpens, which are important in playoff series, let's look at the most used relievers because they are the pitchers the managers trust most, and thus will use most often. For the Tigers those pitchers are Phil Coke, Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel, and despite recent performances, Jose Valverde. Bruce Bochy uses Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt, George Kontos, Santiago Casilla, and Javier Lopez most often. Lopez is a situational lefty, so let's leave him out for now.

In the regular season, the advantage would have gone to the Tigers, with Coke, Valverde, and Dotel pitching very well out of the Detroit bullpen. On the other hand, the Giants pen has been outstanding this postseason, a sign of a winning team. Last year, both the Rangers and Cardinals sported great bullpens in the playoffs, but the Cardinals were able to get more out of their hard throwers than the Rangers did out of their ground ball relievers.

In the NLCS, the only two Giants relievers to let up a run were George Kontos and Guillermo Mota, while the only Tigers reliever to allow a run in the ALCS was Jose Valverde. Tigers relievers threw 11.2 innings in the ALCS and struck out 11 batters while the Giants relievers threw 16.2 innings and struck out 18 Cardinal hitters. In the regular season, Giants relievers relied on ground balls much more than strikeouts while the Tigers bullpen went the opposite way, sporting low BABIPs but also low ground ball percentages. Most importantly, when it comes to clutch situations, neither team's bullpen had the advantage in the regular season, both sported relievers with clutch numbers to the left of the number line and some relievers whose clutch numbers were positive.

Using only the eye test, I would say the Giants bullpen looks better heading into this series than does the Tiger's pen, but the statistics show more of a push. The Giants have used their bullpen more often than the Tigers in the playoffs, and often times, pitchers who don't rely on strikeouts gain an advantage from pitching more often. In the end, the slight advantage goes to the Giants, purely because they have more reliable relievers than the Tigers. Jim Leyland has little confidence in Jose Valverde, and may have too much confidence in Phil Coke, while Bruce Bochy seems confident going to his bullpen whenever he needs to.


When it comes to defense, these two teams couldn't be further apart. The three main defensive metrics in use are FRAA, UZR, and DRS. FRAA is a metric used for individuals, but Baseball Prospectus uses a version of Defensive Efficiency called PADE, which was developed by Bill James, to calculate a teams defensive efficiency while factoring in park and league effects. Here are the results.

Angel Pagan Diving to Make a Catch

These statistics are generally seen quite obviously on the field. Just from the eye-test everyone who has watched baseball this season can tell you that the Tigers have a horrible defense. On the other hand, the same visual test makes the Giants out to be a bit better than they are. None of the Giants team defensive numbers is that great, but in comparison to Detroit, they are stellar. A 0.84 PADE is considered above average in comparison to Detroit's -2.36, which BP considers to be horrendous, their word not mine. A positive UZR is above average, and while a negative DRS isn't good, the Giants defense is nowhere near as porous as the Tigers'. The advantage is overwhelmingly in favor of San Francisco. 


Base running, especially in a series where only 4 wins does the job, can be quite important. According to Fangraphs' base running statistic, the Giants had a 5.5 BsR while the Tigers ranked towards the bottom in the Majors with a -10 BsR. The Giants ranked in the top third in the Majors in base running, whereas the Tigers' mark puts them as the 5th worst base running team in MLB. Advantage here goes to the Giants.

Both of these managers are quite good. Both have won World Series, and have created job security for themselves by leading their team to winning seasons. I can't say there is a distinct advantage for either one, so I give this a push.

The Giants are far more tailored towards doing well at home than are the Tigers. The Giants don't hit home runs, and their pitchers don't strike people out. The Tigers rely on the top part of their order to produce most of their runs and need to get strikeouts in order to win. The Giants' style of play favors both parks in this series because both are larger than average. Advantage here goes to the Giants.

Finally, the Giants have home field advantage, which does not create as big a gap in Baseball as it does in other sports, but has been shown to have some affect. This obviously favors San Francisco.


In the end, while three out of the four best players in the entire series reside on the American League side, Baseball is a team game, and the Giants have the better team. It will be close, as neither team has a great overall advantage, but the Giants perform better in more difficult situations and don't rely on specific aspects as much as the Tigers do. Have a well balanced team can have extreme value in a 7-game series.

Prediction: Giants in 6

Thursday, October 18, 2012

How to Win in The Playoffs

How do you win a Baseball game? It's the question that all of us who analyze the game attempt to answer. Well, if we are being honest, most analysis attempts to answer a more specific question, "how do you beat the other teams?" To win a Baseball game, you must score more runs than the other team. Since we are in the run scoring business, how do we create a run? Other than a home run, which is the simplest and most efficient way to create a run, the process begins by getting someone on base. Next, another hitter has to put the ball in play in a way that causes the base runner to safely round 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, base before touching home plate.

 In game 3 of the ALCS between the Yankees and the Tigers, the Tigers scored 2 runs. One came in the bottom of the 4th inning on a solo home run by Delmon Young.  In the bottom of the 5th inning of, the Tigers scored their second run, which also became the winning run. The Tigers number 2 hitter in the lineup, Quintin Berry, led off the bottom of the 5th. The general makeup of an MLB lineup has the hitters who get on base well in the first 2 spots of the order, with the better power hitters in the 3 and 4 spots. Berry played in 94 games this season, batting in the 1st or 2nd spot in the batting order 64 times. Berry is young, fast, and a proficient base stealer. He stole 21 bases this season on 21 attempts. In case your brain stopped working, that's a 100% stolen base percentage. Berry began the bottom of the 5th with a sharply hit ground ball to Yankees third baseman Eric Chavez, who bobbled the ball. Chavez could not throw out the speedy Berry, who reached base safely. The official scorer ruled the play an error on Chavez, but due to the difficulty of the play, it could just as easily been ruled a hit. With the Tigers next hitter, Miguel Cabrera, at the plate, Berry used his speed to swipe second base, putting himself in a position to score a run on a hit. On a 2-2 pitch, Cabrera lined a double over the head of Curtis Granderson into right center field scoring Berry without an issue.

So, to summarize, the Tigers scored 2 runs in the game, one by home run (easy), and the second by getting a player on base, moving him along, and then knocking him in. Since the game ended 2-1, and the only run the Yankees managed to score came on a solo home run by Eduardo Nuñez, only 1 of the three total runs scored in the game was manufactured. So, it would seem as though the ability to manufacture a run is quite important when two similarly matched teams find themselves matched up in the playoffs.

So far in the ALCS the Tigers have outscored the Yankees 11-5. All 5 of the Yankees runs were produced via the home run. In game 1 the Yankees scored 4 runs on 2 two-run home runs. The Bronx Bombers scored zero runs in the 2nd game, and managed only a solo homer in game 3. Other than 2 solo home runs by Delmon Young, the Tigers have manufactured all of their runs thus far in the ALCS.  Why are the Tigers able to manufacture runs so much more proficiently than the Yankees? Since there are not enough games to create a reliable enough sample size in the playoffs, let's use information from the regular season to see why we see such a disparity between the teams' run scoring abilities.

In the regular season, the two men who batted in the top of the lineup for the Yankees were Derek Jeter and Ichiro. These two combined for a .351 on base percentage, in comparison to Austin Jackson and Quintin Berry, the two hitters at the top of the Tigers order, who combined for a .354 on base percentage. So, these two teams' table setters get on base at similar clips. This gives the men hitting in the 3-5 spots the about the same number of opportunities to knock them in, and thus score runs. For some perspective, a .350 on base percentage stands somewhere between above average and great. In fact, in comparison to the American League average this season (.320), both the Tigers and Yankees 1 and 2 hitters got on base much more often than the rest of the AL.

We have established that the Tigers and Yankees are able to get on base, thus completing the first step in run creation. What about step 2? The meat of the orders must find ways to drive in the runs on base, otherwise a high on base percentage at the top of the order means very little. Unlike the Tigers, who bat ted Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in the 3 and 4 holes respectively every game this season, the Yankees used three hitters to fill the two spots. Robinson Cano, Mark Teixera, and Alex Rodriguez shared responsibilities of the third and fourth spots in the Yankee order, shifting from one to the other, depending on health and the handedness of the opposing pitcher. Cano, Rodriguez, and Teixera combined for a .485 slugging percentage during 2012. This was .07 percentage points higher than the American League average (.411). On the other hand, Cabrera and Fielder slugged a ridiculous .567 this season, .156 percentage points above the league average. In fact, the Tigers duo out slugged the Yankees trio by .118 slugging percentage points. So, while it is safe to say both of these teams get on base equally as well as the other, the Tigers severely out slug the Yankees when it comes to knocking in runs. While rbis provide us with less of the story than other statistics, it is important to note that Cabrera and Fielder combined for 247 runs batted in while the Yankees threesome combined for 235.

Why have the Tigers been winning games so much more easily in the playoffs than over the course of the regular season? Pitching has to be the first answer. The Tigers have the best pitcher in baseball, Justin Verlander, and their other starters have stepped up to give their offense a chance every night. On the other hand, the Yankees haven't pitched as badly as we might think. In game 3, Phil Hughes, David Phelps, and the rest of New York's bullpen combined to give up only 2 runs and 12 base runners. So, in a game in which both teams pitched well, the Tigers may have had the advantage because their sluggers hit knock in runs more efficiently than the Yankees.

While this analysis works well with just these two teams, let's open it up a bit. If we include the other two remaining playoff teams, the Cardinals and the Giants, the analysis becomes more fascinating. The top of the Cardinals lineup consists of Jon Jay and Carlos Beltran. With Beltran's recent knee injury, it could also include Matt Carpenter, so I included him in the calculations. During the regular season the Cardinals hitters in the top of the lineup combined to get on base at a .353 clip. The Tigers' hitters did so at .354, the Yankees at .351, and the Giants' hitters at .362. All of these OBPs are very similar with a range of only .011.

What about the guys hitting behind them, charged with the job of completing the process of creating a run? For this, I used a statistic called wOBA. It stands for weighted on base average. According to the explanation on,"Weighted On-Base Average combines all the different aspects of hitting into one metric, weighting each of them in proportion to their actual run value." "The Cardinals hitters, Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, and Allen Craig, combined for a .388 wOBA with runners on base, while the Giants hitters, Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey, and Hunter Pence, combined for a .369 wOBA. In the AL, the Yankees three middle of the lineup hitters combined for a .358 wOBA and the Tigers dynamic duo combined for a .407 wOBA with runners on base. Now, if we combine the Tigers' 5th hitter, Delmon Young, into this equation we get a wOBA of .369, but I'm excluding Young because unlike the other teams involved, the Tigers' batting order remained frighteningly stagnant, with Fielder playing all 162 games in the clean up spot and Cabrera batting third 161 out of 162 games this year. The other teams all move their hitters around, thus I used the three hitters who hit most often in the 3 and 4 holes in this analysis.

Look at those numbers. The Tigers get on base at about the same clip as the other four teams, but the production they get from the 3 and 4 spots gives them a distinct advantage. They capitalize more often when the top of their order gets on base than the other three teams left in the post season. The second highest wOBA came from St. Louis, which might also shed some light on why the Cardinals are such a consistently solid playoff team. Oftentimes because teams only play a few games per series these numbers do not have a chance to make a difference, but the Cardinals and Tigers seem to be using them to their advantage. All four teams have pitched well, keeping games close, and in close games, it seems like the Cardinals and Tigers have the advantage.

Many thought that signing Prince Fielder would help the Tigers, but that they spent too much money for too many years. This may be true, but Dave Dombrowski knew his team better than anyone else. He must have seen that by adding such a productive hitter, especially with runners in base, to complement Cabrera, that if his team, despite squeaking into the playoffs, would be the most prepared playoff team.

Scoring a run isn't easy. Home runs happen, but more often, a team working together produces the bulk of the runs. Speedy guys get on base, doing their best to get into scoring position, waiting for the boppers behind them to do whatever it takes to get them home. No one knows who will win the NLCS, but the Tigers are prime to win the ALCS as they head into game 4 up 3-0. If the Tigers and Cardinals meet in the World Series, it will not only be a rematch of 2006, it may also be one of the best World Series in we have seen, as these two teams are so evenly matched, both in preventing runs, and more importantly, in producing them.