October 25, 2014

Digging Deeper: Breaking down the Phillies offense with unique (and simple) metrics

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I needed a break from the regular series recaps, because there is only so much you can say every 3 games and still be moderately interesting. So, I pulled some interesting statistical numbers for the Phillies from ESPN, FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus and actually found some real good stuff.

Today I’m doing the hitters, and later in the week I will look at the pitchers. Since a lot of this stuff will be new to people, it is necessary to start off with a glossary:

P/PA – Pitches per plate appearance
BABIP – Batting average on balls hit in play. Higher infers good luck, lower infers bad luck
Clutch – A metric by FanGraphs that measures how a player performs in “high leverage” situations (i.e. situations with a large affect on the outcome of the game) vs. their performance in normal situations
FB%, SL%,  CT%, CB%, CH%, SF%- The percentage of total pitches thrown to a batter that are fastballs (FB), sliders (SL), cutters (CT), curve balls (CB), change-ups (CH) or split-fingers (SF)
wFB/C, wSL/C, wCT/C, wCB/C, wCH/C, wSF/C – This is the runs above average a hitter generates off each pitch. The MLB average for FB is 0.65, for SL it’s 0.00, for CT, CB and CH it’s 0.20 and for SF it’s -1.00.
O-Swing % – The % of balls thrown outside the strike-zone that a player swings at
Z-Swing % – The % of balls thrown inside the strike zone that a player swings at
Swing % – The overall % of pitches a hitter swings at
O-Contact % - The % of balls thrown outside the strike-zone that a player swings at and makes contact with
Z-Contact % – The % of balls thrown inside the strike zone that a player swings at and makes contact with
Contact % - The overall % of pitches a hitter swings at and makes contact with
Zone % – % of pitches a hitter sees inside the strike zone
EqBRR – This is a baserunning stat we’ve discussed before. It measures the number of runs a player gains on the basepaths against the expected rate.
VORP – Value Over Replacement Player. Arguably the most complete metric used today, VORP measures how much a player contributes to his team compared to how an average replacement player would perform.
RC/27 – Runs Created per 27 outs. Another all-encompassing metric, this measures everything a hitter does to help the team win. I believe the resulting metric is how many runs a team would expect to score per game if their line-up was made up of the player, and 8 clones of that player.

Got it?

Good. I really hope you enjoy this stuff as much as I do…here are the raw numbers:

philsstats1
philsstats2
philsstats3

Lots and lots of interesting things here. This is what I saw:

  • It surprised me that Jayson Werth leads the team in P/PA with 4.54. Even more surprising is the fact that he leads the entire National League.
  • The NL median for P/PA is 3.90 meaning that half our line-up is above average (Werth, Utley, Howard, Ruiz) and the other half (Rollins, Victorino, Ibanez, Feliz) is below average.
  • Not good to have such low P/PA for our 1-2 guys in the line-up, but I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
  • Rollins .226 BABIP is a huge indicator that part of his struggles this season have simply been due to bad luck. Only 4 players in baseball (Jay Bruce, Brian Giles, Garrett Atkins and Ken Griffey Jr.) have had worse luck.
  • On the other end, Feliz’ .356 BABIP infers what we already knew: that he’s not really a .320 hitter and has benefitted from some good luck so far.
  • One good non-Phillies note: David Wright leads the MLB in BABIP (with a ridiculous .484 BABIP) which infers he’s due for some bad luck. This would also explain why he’s leading for the batting title right now.
  • With the clutch stat, I would first like to say that I love that they made this stat, as so many baseball stat nuts argued “clutch” didn’t exist and couldn’t be proven. Second, I would say Ryan Howard’s high number proves this stat is useful and accurate. According to the stat, Howard has been the 2nd most clutch player in the majors this year, behind Pablo Sandoval of the Giants. Ibanez is 13th. Victorino is 20th.
  • As a team, the Phillies are the 3rd most “clutch” behind the Tigers and Giants.
  • One of the most telling stats was the FB% for Ryan Howard. He’s sees about 15% less fastballs than the rest of the team, and only Alfonso Soriano sees less fastballs in the MLB. In Howard’s previous seasons, he saw about 51% fastball, so it’s even less this year. Pedro Feliz, another notorious fastball hitter, also has a low percentage. Matt Stairs, not shown, gets a fastball only 48.8% of the time.
  • Only Ivan Rodriguez sees more sliders than Ryan Howard.
  • Looks like pitchers are trying to get Rollins out with curves and change-ups rather than Sliders.
  • Victorino also has a very high change-up %, 5th highest in baseball.
  • All of our hitters except Rollins, are above average against the fastball. Utley and Victorino have been the best.
  • Reason #2 for Rollins numbers: He can’t hit a fastball. Only Bengie Molina and Brian Giles have been worse against the fastball this year.
  • Surprisingly, Howard has been fairly average against the fastball, which as we just discussed, is never thrown to him.
  • Ibanez gaudy numbers have been in large part to him crushing off-speed pitches. He’s been good against the fastball, but fantastic against the slider (1st in MLB), and change-up (4th best).
  • As a team, we can’t hit curve balls. In fact, we are the worst team in baseball against the curve. Could this be the secret as to why some so-so pitchers can dominate us?
  • As a team, we are 1st in baseball against the sliders, 2nd against change-ups and 4th against fastballs.
  • Victorino is the worst on the team against curve balls and change-ups. He is the 4th worst in baseball against the curve.
  • Not surprisingly, Howard swings at more balls out of the strike zone than anyone on the team. Surprisingly, Ruiz swings at the least.
  • Ruiz doesn’t have enough ABs to qualify, but if he did, he would be 5th in the MLB in O-Swing%.
  • If it’s a strike – Ryan Howard will swing 80% of the time, 2nd highest mark in baseball. Probably not a terrible idea since he’s sees fewer  strikes than anyone else on the team (see: Zone %).
  • Let’s just get Howard’s swinging stuff out of the way. Obviously with his K’s, there are lots of swings and misses. He is 6th worst in O-Contact % and Z-Contact % and is 5th worst in overall Contact%.
  • Ibanez doesn’t make much contact when he chases pitches.
  • Victorino and Rollins are our best contact hitters, hitting the ball nearly 90% of the time they take a swing.
  • As a team, we are right in the middle of the pack in Contact%.
  • Utley, Ruiz and Werth swing the least out of any of our players, with Utley swinging at only 1 of every 3 pitches he sees.
  • On the baserunning front, the big shock is that Rollins has been a below average baserunner this year. He has been top-10 in all of baseball the last couple years. Really, really surprising.
  • Howard is the 9th worst baserunner in baseball and despite how much harder and faster Ibanez seems to be running that Burrell, the numbers say otherwise.

For VORP and RC/27, I wanted to put up another chart showing the MLB rank (out of 162 players with 200+ PA) for each players. Carlos Ruiz has about 135 PA, so his rank is where he would be if he had 200 PA.

philsstats

The thing to keep in mind with these types of metrics is they are all about efficiency. Ryan Howard always ranks low because of his strikeouts and lower OBP. RBI’s are not factored in here at all. A couple takeaways from this:

  • Carlos Ruiz has been FANTASTIC so far this year. As you could see from the numbers above, he is very disciplined at the plate and clearly very efficient in his production.
  • Ibanez and Utley are both top-10 players in the MLB this season.
  • Rollins has been one of the 10 worst players in the MLB this season. I didn’t realize he was that bad so far.
  • Werth was lower than I thought he would be, showing very average scores. I continue to think he will be shopped in the off-season so we can bring Michael Taylor up.
  • Feliz ranked ahead of Howard in both metrics.
  • As I think Utley is the best player on the team, I tend to favor the RC/27 rankings.

OK, well that was a lot of information and babbling on. Please feel free to comment and make up your own theories, there is plenty to work with here!

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Comments

  1. Dannie says:

    Head exploding.  Good stuff as usual Pete.  Probably the only person capable of getting me this into baseball.

  2. jurnee16 says:

    On P/PA I was surpised Feliz was so low as he doesn’t strike me as an impatient hitter…but when I read the glossary and saw what P/PA stood for before I even saw the chart i knew Rollins and Victorino would be the lowest on the team…it seems like with both of them (especially Rollins) there is at least on at-bat each game in which they swing at the first pitch and pop it up….

  3. Jesse says:

    Pete-

    Great article. Does VORP somehow factor in a players defensive ability?

  4. Pete says:

    Jesse -

    VORP is just hitting – I think they have other variations that include defense, but the one I used does not.
  5. Tim says:

    Pete

    Great stuff, perfect timing too. Great example last night of how an average pitcher with a decent curve can make us look silly.

  6. Drew says:

    Awesome article. My favorite of the year so far. A few comments:
    1. The first thing I looked for was whether Werth led the team in P/PA.  I have often commented to my buddies he runs the count deep a lot.
    2. Those curveball numbers are stunning.
    3. I can no longer take any arguments stating someone would rather start a team with Howard over Utley serious.
    4. I agree with that Werth will either be traded for Taylor to move up or will not be offered a new contract in 2 years.

  7. Drolz says:

    Awesome, Pete! This is a great fix for true baseball junkies. A couple of thoughts:

    1) This is the kind of stuff a Greg Maddux or Curt Schilling studied meticulously before they pitched. Their preparation often made the difference between “pretty good” and “damn near unhittable.”

    2) Having been a fan of the Phillies since the early ’70s, it’s amazing to see how things have changed since the days when drunk execs would scribble lineups on cocktail napkins.

    3) With these numbers, you can see how a savvy GM could pull off a steal in a trade. A “name” player doesn’t necessarily have high value. Pull the trigger on a deal with that kind of player, throw in a good prospect or two, and you could get a great player in return without having to sell the whole farm.

  8. Pete says:

    Drew-

    Utley’s overall value is tremendously higher than Howard. And once Ibanez cools down a little, it will be much higher than anyone on the team. If you ask any GM which hitter they would start a team with tomorrow, Utley is in the top-5 on most lists, and I imagine several would pick him. (other players? Joe Mauer, David Wright, Albert Pujols, Evan Longoria are the first 4 that come to my mind)

    Drolz -

    Crazy stuff, isn’t it? This is about 1/8th of the stuff you can get at FanGraphs. I really, really hope that the Phillies pay attention to this kind of thing, some “old school” guys still don’t like it. This stuff shouldn’t be the be-all, end-all, but it should be looked at.

  9. Adam says:

    Any interest in running the analysis comparing a player like Utley to some of those guys who would be named above him?  Do the Pujolses, Longorias and Wrights of the world test out just as well through these types of statistics?

    And what kind of general takeaway is there from these stats on the Phillies lineup as a whole?  Clearly the lineup can hit and score runs.  But to me, it seems like those numbers tell me the team isn’t as good as I think it is.  Like Dannie, those numbers also make my head explode, so perhaps I am just not reading them correctly in a general sense.

  10. Pete says:

    Adam -

    You are right. This is lacking some context of what other teams are like. I’ll try to put something together that gives it some more. Can’t right now though. Buried at work.
  11. Pete says:

    they have all these stats by team – I can do a chart with the league average and the Phillies rank… except for VORP, RC/27 and EqBRR

  12. bski says:

    Thanks for all the hard work, Pete.  Great stuff.  The Phils had better be using all the data that is available in order to keep up with the rest of the league, if not trying to create new metrics themselves to try and get ahead.

  13. bski says:

    Drolz.……“it’s amazing to see how things have changed since the days when drunk execs would scribble lineups on cocktail napkins.”

    Yeah, now we have drunk sabermetricians spitting spreadsheets of detailed info out of their laptops and e-mailing lineups from their Blackberries.

  14. bski says:

    “As a team, we can’t hit curve balls. In fact, we are the worst team in baseball against the curve. Could this be the secret as to why some so-so pitchers can dominate us?”—-Pete.

    Uh………maybe.  How about last night against Richmond, for example.
    From the Daily News:

    “Richmond did throw well, utilizing a curveball that routinely kept hitters off balance, including one early in the game that dropped out of the zone and caused Raul Ibanez to huff in frustration as he held on for dear life to a swing that already had gone around.”

    “He did a pretty good job of slowing his breaking ball,” said second baseman Chase Utley, who went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. “He threw strikes. He was making it look just good enough to swing at.”

    The numbers are what they are for a reason.  Last night simply  exemplified them and  corroborated Pete’s observation.

  15. Adam says:

    Ugh, that was ugly.  The Sportscenter replay last night showed all the strike outs and just about all were on curve balls.  Those were some ugly swings.  Unreal. 

    I know Bastardo had a good start, but is it just me or do the Phillies suck at hitting unfamiliar pitching, but when they throw out an unfamiliar pitchers, they often get rocked?

  16. bski says:

    It’s not you, Adam.  Once in a while we will hammer someone the first time we face him.  Most of the time, however, we are flummoxed by the unfamiliar.

  17. Adam says:

    Just realized I posted that in the wrong place.  Meant to put it in the series preview of the Jays.

  18. Drew says:

    Pete,
    I saw an interview with George W Bush who was asked if he was starting a baseball team which hitter and batter he would take.  He said he would choose Utley as the hitter to and Halladay as the pitcher. I didn’t agree with almost anything Bush did in office but I have to agree with those two players. I would probably choose the same.

    Anyone else want to give their opinions on that question?

  19. Drew says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhWsxqd_bis

    I just found the video for it.

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