The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Friday, September 25, 2009

 

Friday's Child (Penultimate Edition)

As noted last week, I spend a lot of my time at BP exploring the margin between teams' expected performance (as based upon variants of Bill James' Pythagorean formula) and their actual performance, looking for reasons why it happens and cues as to what it portends. Having taken on the Pythagorean overachievers in last week's Prospectus Hit and Run, this week I delved into the underachievers. We've got a bumper crop of them at the moment:
Meanwhile, there's also potential history being made at the other, less happy end of the Pythagorean spectrum. Since 1901, twenty-five teams have finished at least 10 games below their third-order Pythagenpat projection. Only twice have two teams done so within the same year, first time in 1912 (when both the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves achieved ignominy), and then again in 1993 (when the Mets and Padres did it). This year, no less than four teams are threatening to join those ranks, including two from the same division:
Rnk  Year Team         W-L    Pct    R    RA   AEQR  AEQRA   D3
 1   1993 Mets       59-103  .364   672   744   672   736   -15.1
 2   1935 Braves     38-115  .248   575   852   593   835   -14.6
 3   1986 Pirates    64-98   .395   663   700   666   697   -13.6
 4   2009 Nationals  51-99   .340   661   825   664   773   -13.2
 5   1946 A's        49-105  .318   529   680   529   662   -12.8
 6   1905 Browns     54-99   .353   512   608   521   601   -12.7
 7   1937 Reds       56-98   .364   612   706   620   700   -12.4
 8   1939 Browns     43-111  .279   733  1035   752  1003   -12.2
 9   1962 Mets       40-120  .250   617   948   631   924   -12.1
10   1917 Pirates    51-103  .331   464   595   468   579   -11.9
11t  1975 Astros     64-97   .398   664   711   668   711   -11.8
11t  1984 Pirates    75-87   .463   615   567   612   564   -11.8
13   2001 Rockies    73-89   .451   923   906   910   870   -11.5
14   1993 Padres     61-101  .377   679   772   681   764   -11.4
15   2009 Blue Jays  68-83   .450   727   719   745   714   -11.3
16t  1924 Cardinals  65-89   .422   740   750   745   752   -11.1
16t  1961 Phillies   47-107  .305   584   796   599   782   -11.1
18   1907 Reds       66-87   .431   526   519   527   522   -11.0
19   1967 Orioles    76-85   .472   654   592   657   602   -11.0
20   1936 Phillies   54-100  .351   726   874   739   869   -10.9
21   2006 Indians    78-84   .481   870   782   882   800   -10.7
22t  1912 Dodgers    58-95   .379   651   744   665   742   -10.4
22t  1952 Tigers     50-104  .325   557   738   563   716   -10.4
23   2009 D'backs    66-86   .434   678   735   693   690   -10.3
24   1919 Senators   56-84   .400   533   570   533   565   -10.2
25t  1912 Braves     52-101  .340   693   871   705   857   -10.1
25t  1928 Phillies   43-109  .283   660   957   682   936   -10.1
25t  1972 Giants     69-86   .445   662   649   662   648   -10.1
30t  2009 Rays       77-74   .510   748   691   774   662    -9.6
Recall that the overachievers list skews towards recent history, with the Wild Card era producing eight of the 21 teams who have finished at least 10 games above their expected records. This one, on the other hand, tilts heavily towards the pre-World War II era, producing 12 of the 25 who've finished at least 10 games below their expected records. Not counting this year's bountiful class, just two of the top underachievers are from the Wild Card era.

The main reason for that, I suspect, has to do with bullpen usage. As noted last year and again in last week's piece, a strong bullpen is a consistent means of such overachievement; the historical correlation between a team's cumulative WXRL and its D3 is .42, whereas it's just .20 for SNLVAR. It makes some amount of sense that the current era might produce more overachievers and fewer underachievers because of the fact that WXRL rates and Leverage scores have been on the rise historically, as bullpens have assumed a higher percentage of innings and increased specialization has tailored more specific roles than 20 or 30 years ago...

Note that Bruce Sutter's advent as the modern closer marks something of a turning point [in the graph]. WXRL rates rose above 0.1 per nine innings only four times from 1954 through 1979. By that point, Cubs manager Herman Franks had begun his attempt to limit Sutter's deployment to close games in which the Cubs had a lead—save situations, in other words. The strategy began to take hold, and the only time WXRL rates have been below 0.1 per nine innings since was in the 1981 strike year. They're now about 40 percent higher than they were 30 years ago.
If the Rays join the club, they'll be the first team with a record above .500 to do so. At this writing, they're now 9.5 games below expectation. The Angels, alas, have fallen back to 8.6 wins above expectation, though they can still make history as the first team to finish above 8.0 three years in a row even if they don't finish above 10.0 for the second straight year.

Anyway, I'll be spending a lot more time doing so in the coming weeks, both for the BP site and our forthcoming annual, where I'll be writing about some of the teams involved in these over/underachievments.

• • •

Meanwhile, this week's Hit List is the penultimate one of the 2009 season. It finds the Dodgers retaking the lead from the Yankees, and a bit of food for thought regarding the handling of young pitchers:
[#1 Dodgers] R&R: The Dodgers haven't quite clinched a playoff berth, but they're an eyelash away. Ronnie Belliard helps push them closer with his grand slam off Brad Penny, his second homer in as many starts. Belliard's .333/.382/.619 showing since his August 30 acquisition is hot enough that Joe Torre is surprisingly noncommittal about whether slumping Orlando Hudson (.233/.313/.302 in September, and now earning an additional $10,000 for every plate appearance) is still the starting second baseman. Meanwhile, Rafael Furcal may finally be shaking his season-long funk, hitting .471/.538/.824 over the last eight games, compared to .256/.321/.352 prior.

[#2 Yankees] The Yankees clinch a postseason berth while taking a series in Anaheim, their first since 2004. As their focus shifts to October, there's plenty of concern about their rotation, particularly Joba Chamberlain, whose latest bombing pushes his ERA to 8.25 since the beginning of August and threatens his roster spot. It also leaves Chad Gaudin as the potential number four starter behind CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte. Gaudin's .496 SNWP and 3.33 ERA in five starts with the Yanks are respectable, but if he's so great, why waste so much time on Sergio Mitre?

[#3 Red Sox] Young Buchh: Tim Wakefield continues to struggle with his pitching and his health but Clay Buchholz is stepping up just in time. His 6.2 scoreless innings against the Royals marks his ninth quality start out of 10, a span during which he's posted a 2.37 ERA and allowed just four homers in 64.2 innings. If there's concern to be had, it's that Buccholz has now pitched 183 innings between the minors and majors this year, up from 134.2 last year—well beyond the so-called "Rule of 30" increase, but aesthetically speaking, miles beyond the Joba Rules.
Time will tell, of course, whether Buchholz's handling and heavy 2009 workload was detrimental to his career, or Chamberlain's handling was beneficial to his, and it's fair to note that the Laptop Thief is a year older — and further removed from what we at BP refer to as the injury nexus — than Joba, but right now, the Red Sox look to have a clear leg up on the manner in which they've handled things.

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