Friday, May 15

I have seen the numbers, and they are not good

Let's be honest: it's been hard work following the Tribe so far this year. Their win over the White Socks on Wednesday (as I write this) leaves them still at a league-worst 13-22. To make matters worse, the championship aspirations of the Cavaliers (and for me, the Penguins) gives the Tribe pretty stiff competition for my sports attention span.

However, with the Cavaliers reprising their role as the NBA's Laziest Team and taking another week off, I figure I should weigh in on some baseball. I realized last year that I often use the convenient metrics of (park-adjusted) ERA+ and OPS+ to describe player performances, so I thought I'd see how well these actually correlate to wins.

Below (click graph to enlarge), you can see that, for '08, a metric I created and uncreatively called SUM+ (the sum of ERA+ and OPS+) is very well-correlated to teams' winning percentages, giving an R-squared over 0.8 for each league. Teams above the line were lucky to have won as many as they did - teams below couldn't catch a break. Notice how absurdly high the crazy-lucky Angels were last year.

So far in 2009 (see below), we see that Tampa Bay should expect an uptick in their winning percentage if they keep playing this well, while Boston and Toronto should fall off their paces. The NL is much less correlated to SUM+ than the AL. Consider Pittsburgh and Chicago - the Bucs and Cubs have the same letters in their team nicknames and the same SUM+, but the Cubbies are cruising along at .548 and the Pirates at .387. San Francisco has the biggest offense/defense split at 73/112, but with absolutely no ability to hit, they've carved out a .548 season so far. The lowly Nationals, in addition to being awful, have been the unluckiest club in the league as well.

And way at the bottom left of the AL chart, we see our poor Wahoos, sporting the league's lowest SUM+ and winning percentage. I thought I'd take a look in the numbers to see what's going on with these guys.

Hitting: Team OPS+ = 99
Overall, it seems hitting isn't a major problem; we're exactly league-average and exactly in the middle of the pack. The problem from a games-won standpoint, is that a lot of the hitting has been concentrated in routs like the 22-4 drubbing of the Yankees and not so much in, say, this past weekend versus Detroit. Bimodal run-scoring is not a formula for winning baseball. How are some of the individual players doing?

Victor Martinez is playing terrifically, on-basing a ridiculous .462 and posting an OPS+ of 174. He really is the team MVP at this point, without question. Travis Hafner had a very solid 133 before going down with injury. Shin-Soo Choo has continued his solid production of a season ago, posting a 117 thus far and getting on base at a .406 clip. Very nice. Asdrubal Cabrera has also been strong, with an excellent 114 and his usual sparkling defense. Such production from a middle infield spot is very valuable, especially considering his .397 OBP.

Every other Tribe regular is below league average. (Tony Graffanino, in 24 plate appearances, put up a negative 11; I didn't know OPS+ could be negative!) Garko and Shoppach have been so-so at 92 and 91, DeRosa is disappointing at 87, team superstar Grady Sizemore is, relatively speaking, having a disastrous season at 86 (.313 OBP?), Ben Francisco should be the 4th OF at 78), and Jhonny Peralta is, absolutely speaking, hitting awful so far, with a beyond-bad 63. That's embarrassing.

There are positives. Among AL teams, we're still 4th in runs, 2nd in BB, 3rd in team OBP, and a surprisingly spry 5th in SB, so expect more runs to come, especially once we stop playing David Dellucci. Based on their track records, we can expect DeRosa, Sizemore, and Peralta to pick it up as well. I'd be surprised if the Tribe doesn't crack the top 5 in runs scored for the season.

Pitching: Team ERA+ = 83
Dead last in the AL, and as anyone who follows the club can tell you, the reason the Wahoos occupy the basement as a team. The pitching staff has been utterly disastrous. First, the starters:

Lee 139
Laffey 142
Carmona 86
Pavano 74
Reyes 67

Who knew Cliff was pitching this well? He's been the ultimate hard-luck guy for this staff so far, posting a 2-5 record while being the team's most effective starter (Laffey was slightly better, but in fewer starts). The rest of the rotation has been flatly terrible. Carmona (1-4) walks far too many people and looks pretty mediocre, and Reyes has been very ineffective. The starts not made by these five men were picked up by Sowers and Lewis, and the less said about those outings, the better.

Pavano's number is misleading here: throw out his nightmarish first outing, and he's been consistently good, with a 4.45 ERA over his last 6 outings. Interestingly, baseball-reference's #1 best match for his career thus far is...Jake Westbrook.

The bullpen makes me want to hurt someone. Chulk, Sipp, and Lewis are the only ones to top the league average, and Betancourt is so-so at 92. But what a house of horrors below:

Jackson 83
Wood 73
Smith 67
Kobayashi 57
Perez 32

Yuck. We have a team WHIP of 1.6. Last in ERA (5.78). Last in BB. And last in wins. As much as people point to the lineup and the struggles we've had at times with the bats, if these turkeys keep giving up 6 runs a game, forget about 2009.

1 comment:

Nick said...

Good analysis. As much as people want to over-complicate and romanticize baseball -- and I'm certainly guilty of the latter -- it's really just about scoring more runs than you give up over the long haul. The season's so long that it usually evens out, and if you've scored significantly more runs than you've allowed, you usually end up in the playoffs. There's a good chance that most of your wins won't be of the 22-4 variety.

As for the Tribe, I just keep repeating the mantra "the pitching can't be this bad." Tonight did nothing to prove me right.