When the sun rose on August 25, the upstart Mariners were sitting pretty. Thanks to a streak in which they won 13 out of 17, they were 73–53, one game behind the Angels in the AL West, and three ahead of the Yankees in the wild card race. According to Baseball Prospectus' Playoff Odds report — which uses a team's run-scoring and run-preventing proclivities in a Monte Carlo-simulation that plays out the rest of the season one million times — the M's held a 29% shot at winning their division, and a 30% shot at the AL Wild Card.More after the jump.
Less than three weeks later, the Mariners' ship has all but sunk. A 1–13 skid helped knock them 8.5 games back in the division, and 5.5 back in the wild card, plunging their Playoff Odds down below 2%. In terms of raw wins and losses, they've set a dubious record — no team so far above .500 so late in the season has ever collapsed so quickly. What went wrong?
[In the grand scheme, the Mariners simply regressed to the mean. Studies have shown that run differentials are better predictors of future performance than past won-loss records. At the point when they were 20 games above .500, the Mariners had outscored opponents by just 28 runs, with rates that projected to a far less impressive and contention-worthy 66-60 record. Call their recent plunge a market correction, a brutal one at that.]
In retrospect, it's surprising the Mariners contended at all this year. The team that made the playoffs four times between 1995 and 2000, and averaged 98 wins a year between 2000 and 2003, has fallen on hard times, with four straight losing seasons and a slew of questionable free-agent signings by general manager Bill Bavasi. Back in the spring, Baseball Prospectus projected the Mariners to finish 73–89, last in the AL West, with the third-worst mark of any AL team.
[Even in surpassing that projection, the team has ridden an emotional rollercoaster. Amid an eight-game winning streak in late June, manager Mike Hargrove resigned abruptly to spend more time with his family. Three weeks later, replacement John McLaren navigated the club through a seven-game losing streak that foreshadowed their late August troubles. Stability is not among the 2007 Mariners’ limited virtues.]
Coming into the year, Martinez's JAWS score (113.7 career WARP3/75.3 peak/94.5 JAWS) was well above the Hall standard for starting pitchers (99.0/62.7/80.9). His JAWS score ranks 20th all-time, and his peak score ranks 14th. As I noted in Mind Game, his 2000 season ranks as the best ever in terms of RA+ (293) for any pitcher with at least 150 innings.• Finally, I'm honored to be the author whose It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over chapter has been chosen for excerpting on the BP site. "The Summer of Loving Carl Yastrzemski" is a supporting chapter for my narrative on the 1967 American League race between the Red Sox, Twins, Tigers, and White Sox, which leads off the book. Here's the intro; you can read the rest at BP, where it's free:
Compare that to Koufax; as impressive as the Dodger lefty's stats were, his best seasons were achieved under some of the most favorable conditions of any pitcher, and his JAWS score (70.7/60.3/65.5) is miles behind Pedro, ranking 80th of all time. He was basically a league-average pitcher from 1955-1960 before taking a big step forward in 1961 (the year before the team moved into Dodger Stadium), but he's only got three seasons above 9.0 WARP3. In comparison, Pedro has six. Koufax's best RA+ was "just" 196. But before anybody gets the pitchforks out to either run him out of the Hall (or me out of the field of baseball analysis), as one Schmuck tried to do to BP alum Dayn Perry, let's not forget that Koufax's Hall of Fame case also includes three Cy Youngs, an MVP award, gallons of black ink, three World Series rings, an 0.95 postseason ERA, and the enigmatic glow that comes from retiring while at the pinnacle of success.
Glow aside, Martinez isn't lacking in any of those categories, with three Cys, a ring of his own, and even more black ink in an era where the increased player pool makes it much harder to come by. His JAWS score and other Hall of Fame credentials are so rock solid that he stacks up pretty well with 300-game winning teammate Tom Glavine (129.4/61.4/95.4 coming into the year). He's my lock of the week, and it's a pretty big lock.
In the simplified narratives that our sports media produce, the notion of one player’s carrying a team is a popular and appealing one. It puts a human—even superhuman—face on a disparate collection of players, emphasizing the strengths of one hitter’s or one pitcher’s accomplishments while glossing over his own weaknesses and those of his teammates. Who cares about Babe Ruth’s lousy baserunning, or who was riding shotgun to Joe DiMaggio in 1941, or even Barry Bonds’s peevishness unless it actually cost his team a game? Can one player carry a team? Performances like Carl Yastrzemski’s final two weeks of September 1967, when he hit a jaw-dropping .523/.604/.955, certainly suggest it’s possible for a short time. In the longer term, the nature of baseball would suggest not. Aside from the obvious—the simple unlikelihood of one player’s maintaining such a high level of performance over a larger time frame—there’s the inherent structure of the game. The best hitter can only bat once every nine times, the most durable pitcher needs a few days’ rest between starts, and even the best fielder (beyond catchers) handles the ball only a handful of times each game, making it extremely unlikely that a team could keep relying on the same player over and over again for that extra boost.While I could quibble with the choice of chapters -- this wasn't my personal favorite even among the ones I contributed, but nobody asked me -- I'm honored to be chosen to represent BP for this. The findings here aren't revolutionary, but they do quantify some answers to questions that are often debated on a more abstract level.
As superficial as the notion of one player’s carrying a team may be, our ability to quantify the contributions of each player via an all-encompassing value metric like wins above replacement player (WARP) lends itself well to exploring the limitations of this concept as it applies to a full season. WARP measures each player’s hitting, pitching, and fielding contributions against those of a freely available reserve or waiver-wire pickup. The metric calculates these contributions in terms of runs and then converts those runs into the currency of wins. Park and league contexts are built right into WARP, so that, for example, a player in a barren offensive environment such as mid-1960s Dodger Stadium and another player in a bountiful one such as turn-of-the-century Coors Field can be measured on the same scale. With WARP in hand, we can answer questions such as the following:1. How much impact does the presence of one great player have on a team’s chances?
2. How much impact does the presence of one great player have on a team’s chances if he’s head-and-shoulders above all his other teammates?
As defined by [Philadelphia Inquirer columnist John] Lowe, a quality start is one in which a pitcher goes at least six innings and allows no more than three earned runs. It's a simple and elegant stat that suggests a pitcher did a reasonable job of keeping his team in the ballgame. And while it's possible for a pitcher to earn a quality start with a game ERA of 4.50, such instances are rare. In the aforementioned ESPN column, [Rob] Neyer found that in 2005, the average quality start featured a game ERA of 2.04, a non-quality start 7.70 -- that's not a misprint, it's Boeing's next jet -- and the 6 inning/3 earned run/4.50 case constituted just 9.2 percent of all quality starts.The piece was accompanied by an Unfiltered entry which clarified my decision to use a definition of quality starts that excluded unearned runs, which generally isn't how we roll at BP.
Based on this year's numbers, a team getting a quality start wins 68.0 percent of the time, on par with the 67.4 percent Neyer reported based on 1985 and 2005 data...
...As a metric, SNLVAR [Support Neutral Lineup Adjusted Value Above Replacement] certainly has its advantages over quality starts. It adjusts for ballpark and opposition strength, strips out things a pitcher can't control like run support and bullpen support, and expresses the result in wins above replacement level. For my money, it's the best metric in the BP toolbox with which to measure starting pitchers, and as such, I use it every week in the Hit List, along with its bullpen sibling, WXRL. However, you can't eyeball SNLVAR over a cup of coffee and a page full of box scores, nor can you impress mixed company with such an unwieldy acronym, one which brings to mind that old Serak the Preparer line: "To pronounce it correctly, I would have to pull out your tongue." The humble quality start is perfect for just such occasions.
Then again, the quality start metric does lack the zazz we at BP like to apply to things, so it's worth passing along a little tidbit from Keith Woolner: our Support Neutral family can provide a sophisticated approximation of quality start rate if we untether ourselves from replacement level and turn towards league average via the per-game stat SNLVA_R (Support Neutral Lineup-adjusted Value Added Rate). Simply put, a pitcher's SNLVA_R + 0.5 is the percentage of the time his team would win a game given average offense and bullpen support. So for Jake Peavy, who's got an SNLVA of 5.3 in 28 starts and thus an SNLVA_R of .189, his team can be expected to win at a .689 clip. That's tops among pitchers with 100 or more innings this season.
Regarding your NL MVP candidates, how about those two guys in Florida? Yes, the Marlins are not in playoff contention, but it's hard to ignore Hanley Ramirez and Miguel Cabrera, especially considering they're first and second, respectively, in the NL in VORP, and rank in the top three in Runs Created. It looks like you went through all the playoff-contending teams, and chose a "good" player from each. Let me ask you: If Cabrera were on a playoff-contender this season, would there be any doubt who the MVP was?Emphasis added. Once again, an old-guard sportswriter decides that a simple sabermetric concept is interfering with his ability to gum his applesauce in peace:
-- Carolyn, Boca Raton, Fla.
Actually, you're right. That's exactly what I did, and how I came up with Prince Fielder as my NL MVP leader. His "good'' year is actually more than good, and the Brewers are right in the thick of the playoff race. While I understand your sentiments, I am more interested in "wins created'' than runs created. And the day I consider VORP is the day I get out of the business. The idea of the MVP is to honor the player who has had the biggest positive impact on the pennant races. I have been a big champion for Ramirez, but I would not consider him a true candidate to win the MVP award.
"Damn you kids! You don't know anything about the manly, musky smell of a locker room and its relationship to team chemistery and anonymously sourced shit-stirring quotes! It's got nothing to do with your new-age sissy numbers! You don't need a computer to add up RBIs! Hell, I'll bet you think these stat-generating robots put their pants on two legs at a time as they plug their Internets into their calculators. Well, you whippersnappers can pry my ignorance out of my cold, dead hand!"Funny, I had Heyman for being about 15-20 years younger than Chass. Clearly, he got old in a hurry.
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