David N. Townsend
Baseball Journal

October 4, 2000
Season 2K.

(Note: stats in this report were compiled with a few days left in the season; they will be updated to reflect final 2000 stats.  Some day.)

Red Sox post-mortem

Well, everything I have to say about the Red Sox this year, I’ve pretty much already said. They’re obviously a team with way too many holes in their offense to be a serious challenger for the world championship. The pitching staff is adequate, although of course that could always improve. When you start with Pedro, and you have a high quality bullpen like the Sox have, you can survive a lot of mediocre seasons from guys like Ramon, Wakefield, Fassero, and the like. And you can work in a Tomo Okha or Paxton Crawford with confidence that you’ll avoid any major losing streaks or bullpen burnout, thanks to Pedro’s contribution every 5th day. If they could add a Mussina or another front-line starter, that would be gravy.

But it still wouldn’t be enough without at least a couple of more hitters. The problem is not just a lack of home runs, although in this home run era, that’s a big problem: only Kansas City, Tampa Bay, and Minnesota hit fewer homers than the Sox this year in the A.L., and not coincidentally, only Tampa Bay and Minnesota scored fewer runs overall. But in other respects, the offense was lacking, too. Their team On-Base Percentage is .341, also worse than everyone but Minn and TB. And even the Twins beat them in team Batting Average. Nor do the Sox augment their hits with Stolen Bases: their 40 are second lowest in the league, and their net SB-CS of 12 is dead last. And it’s not as if they put a great fielding team out there to offset their paltry run scoring ability.

Perhaps the greatest indictment of the team offense is, ironically, in Pedro Martinez’s record this year. His 2000 season has been, believe it or not, even better than his incredible 1999 performance: His ERA went down from 2.07 to 1.74 (while scoring around baseball is up even more – see below). He’s issued far fewer hits per 9 innings (5.38 this year vs. 6.67 last), and also fewer walks per 9 innings (1.36 vs. 1.56). All this while pitching more total innings, and more innings per start. Only his strikeouts are down a little, and his home runs allowed are up.

With this legendary, astonishing performance, Pedro’s record is "only" 18-6? That, friends, is a scandal. Last year, with a "lesser" performance, he won 23 games, but this year’s even more pathetic lineup could only gain him the Win in a mere 62% of his starts. Think about it: possibly the greatest single-season pitching display in history, and he only gets a Win out of it just over half the time! Give me a break. Put Pedro on the A’s or the Indians this year, he wins 25, at least. On the White Sox, he’s 29-0.

Bottom line: if you add more pitchers, even great ones, to the Red Sox, without improving the hitting, they don’t get a heck of a lot better. Look at Mussina’s record (10-15) with the equally impotent Orioles. Look at Radke’s results (12-15) with the Twins. The Sox led the entire league in team ERA by a good margin: 4.26 to the Mariners’ 4.46, and were more than half a run better than the Indians (4.92) and Blue Jays (5.11), and yet they finished with only the 7th best record in the league. If Duquette thinks they can go into next season and contend without adding another couple of serious major league hitters, he’s beyond hope.

Who’s the favorite, now?

Anyway, as we enter the post-season without the Red Sox to enthrall us, the question becomes: which team deserves our collective support, the spiritual vibes which are certain to help win a championship (about as much as they’ve helped the Sox for the past 80 years)?

Let’s go down the list, and think it through:

New York Yankees: Well, if they win it all again, doesn’t it somehow vindicate the Red Sox, who have played fairly competitively against them? Yeah, right.

Chicago White Sox: Soul-mates of the Red Sox in many ways, they (and the Cubs) have waited even longer to celebrate a World Series win. A Cinderella team, relative to pre-season expectations, with a lot of good guys. Would love to hear Hawk Harrelson announcing their victory.

Seattle Mariners: Gave up Griffey and Johnson, only to gain in respectability? Something wrong there. A championship for them would endorse too many bad ideas. But many of their players – A-Rod, Edgar, Moyer, Buhner – are the type you would like to see win it all.

Oakland A’s: If the Red Sox of the 1970s couldn’t win it all, why should this team, another slugging, slow-footed powerhouse with limited pitching and defense? And besides, Oakland has had far more championships than its fan base merits. Nevertheless, they’re hard not to love, unlike the great A’s teams of old.

Atlanta Braves: Shouldn’t this great franchise win more than one Series during their era? Oh, who cares?

New York Mets: The ultimate slap at Steinbrenner would be to lose to the cross-town Mets in a subway series. That’s about the only reason I can think to root for them.

St. Louis Cardinals: Another lovable team, in one of the greatest baseball cities. A city that hasn’t won it all since 1982. You could pick a worse team to win it all. But they won’t get a lot of teardrops from me if they don’t.

San Francisco Giants: Have they ever won the World Series in S.F.? I don’t have time to look it up, but I don’t think so. So that’s a consideration. And even if you don’t like Barry Bonds, he sort of deserves a title, too, don’t you think? Okay, who cares again, right?

So it comes down to the White Sox and Giants. I think I’ll go with the White Sox. That would leave only the Cubbies with more reason to whine and moan than us Red Sox fans.

Where’d the homers go?

Remember at the beginning of the season, how all the baseball media were running around like decapitated chickens, screaming about how the home run barrage was unprecedented, eclipsing all records since the dawn of time? Some idiot even got MIT to examine whether the ball was "juiced" by comparing some balls from the 2000 season with balls from last year! This was just as stupid as the study a couple of years back that compared balls with some that had been preserved from 1987, and concluded that they weren’t any more "tightly wound", without anyone bothering to note that 1987 was the most unambiguously juiced-ball season of all time.

Well, the numbers are certainly up from last year, but not by a huge margin:

 

1999 HR/gm

2000 HR/gm

1999 R/gm

2000 R/gm

A.L.

2.33

2.37

10.35

10.58

N.L.

2.23

2.32

10.00

10.01

Interestingly, National League home runs almost caught up with the American League, although total runs scored lagged further behind.  How much of this do we credit to Ken Griffey, Jr. and Jim Edmonds, and how much to Enron Field?

Nevertheless, despite the overall increases, hasn’t it seemed that the pace of offense has dropped off substantially in the second half of the 2000 season? I know I’ve seen some numbers that confirm this, although the long-term trend still seems to be on an upward slope. But from another perspective, the top individual performances of 2000 have not lived up to the past couple of seasons. Here are the numbers for 5 of the top sluggers in each league, the past 2 years:

1999 slugger

1999 HR

1999 RBI

2000 slugger

2000 HR

2000 RBI

(AL)

         

Griffey

48

134

Thomas

43

143

Palmeiro

47

148

Delgado

41

137

Ramirez

44

165

Glaus

47

102

Delgado

44

134

Giambi

43

137

Gonzalez

39

128

A. Rodriguez

41

132

(NL)

         

McGwire

65

147

Sosa

50

138

Sosa

63

141

Bonds

48

106

Guerrero

42

131

Bagwell

47

132

M. Williams

35

142

Guerrero

44

123

G. Vaughn

45

118

Griffey

40

118

Don’t the 1999 numbers look much gaudier overall? Or am I just imagining it?   Anyway, somebody hit more homers and drove in more runs this year, but nobody came within a mile of Babe Ruth and Roger Maris.  Upon checking the final numbers, there were, indeed, fewer players hitting 40+ home runs in 2000 than in 1999; however, there were more 30+ home run hitters this year.  So that must mean something.

Team Clutch?

Finally, one of those arcane and intricate statistical analyses that you’ve come to anticipate from me with shivering indifference. Please give it a read, and I’d love to hear any theories or reaction.

Start with this question. Assume we have two teams, call them Team A and Team AA. Based upon the following information, which team do you think is the better hitting, or offensive, team?

So, answer the loaded question: which team has the better offense?

In case it hasn’t jumped out at you, the teams in question are the 2000 Anaheim Angels (AA) and Oakland A’s (A). As noted above, the Angels beat the A’s in virtually every statistical measure of team offense, and field a lineup that is clearly more potent from 1 to 9:

Angels

Avg.

HR

RBI

A’s

Avg.

HR

RBI

Erstad

.355

25

100

Long

.288

18

80

Speizio

.242

17

49

Velarde

.278

12

41

M. Vaughn

.272

36

117

Ja. Giambi

.333

43

137

Salmon

.286

34

97

Stairs

.227

21

81

G. Anderson

.286

35

117

Grieve

.279

27

104

Glaus

.285

47

102

Tejada

.275

30

115

Molina

.281

14

71

Chavez

.277

26

86

Kennedy

.266

9

72

Je. Giambi/Saenz (avg)

.275

9

40

Gil/Stocker (avg)

.233

4

24

R. Hernandez

.233

14

57

Have I convinced you? Is it not clear that the Angels are the better hitting team?

Well the answer is: they’re not! The 2000 Oakland A’s are a much better offensive team than the 2000 Anaheim Angels! That’s right, the Angels have a higher BA and Slugging, the same OBP, more of every type of hit, more stolen bases, all in roughly the same number of At-Bats. And you know what?

The A’s (947) scored 83 more runs than the Angels (864).

That’s 83 runs over 162 games, or more than one-half run more per game: a huge margin. The A’s were 3rd in the league in runs scored, the Angels were only 9th.

How is this possible?  This is the question that leaped out at me from these numbers. If two teams get almost the same number of runners on base (= similar OBP), but one gets them a lot farther around the bases (higher TB, more SB), shouldn’t that team score more runs?  If we treat singles and walks as equal, both teams got almost the exact same number of guys just to first base.  They both hit almost the exact same number of home runs. But the Angels had 28 more doubles, 11 more triples, and a whopping 53 more stolen bases.  Shouldn’t that result in more runs?   How in the world can it result in fully 83 fewer runs??

Well, I’ve thought about the question, and since I haven’t followed the teams closely enough and I don’t have access to more detailed data, I can only speculate, but it leads me to only one possible conclusion: the A’s must be dramatically more "clutch" hitters than the Angels. When the numbers do come in, they will have to show that the Angels, for example, hit much poorer with runners in scoring position. They must hit into a lot more double plays than the A’s.  The A’s must execute many more sacrifice flies and bunts, and they must move the runner along and take the extra base more frequently.  There’s no other explanation for this dramatic disparity.  If the Angels’ ownership paid attention to these statistics, I would think some heads would roll.  It’s almost inconceivable that a team that hit so well, superficially, could do such a poor job of scoring runs.

The Team Clutch Statistic. So to build upon this fascinating discovery, and bore you all even further, I developed a single statistic that can measure this elusive notion of team "clutch" hitting performance.  (Probably Bill James already did this, but I don’t remember it).  It’s very simple in concept.  It simply asks: "How many runs does a team score, relative to the number of bases that its hitters attain?"  Bases attained are defined as Total Bases + Bases on Balls + Stolen Bases – Caught Stealing.  So the formula is simply:

Clutch = R (TB + BB + SB – CS)

In general, there will always be a ratio of about 1 to 4, or 0.25, in this measure: i.e., teams will typically score 1 run for every 4 bases they reach, since that is the fundamental nature of the game.  Think of it: a walk followed by a triple = 4 bases, 1 run; back-to-back doubles = 4 bases, 1 run.  And so forth.  The times when you get a run on just 2 or 3 bases (a double followed by a single) are offset by the times when your hits are all dispersed, and you score nothing.

In fact, the numbers prove this out.  The overall American League average Clutch statistic for 2000 is 0.272.  The margin above 0.25 is probably accounted for partly by the preponderance of home runs, and partly by things not measured by the statistic, such as reaching on errors, sacrifices, and so forth.  Since this is the league average, this is what all teams should be shooting for.  Remember, it’s not a measure of the absolute value of a team’s offense; it only asks how well did you score relative to the number of bases your offense gained.  The team that’s last in the league in Runs Scored could still theoretically be first in Clutch Ratio.

This statistic reveals, or summarizes, the differences between the A’s and Angels discussed above.  It also demonstrates that the White Sox, who led the league in runs, didn't just have a lot of good hitters, they had an offense that produced runs way above the individual statistics.  Interestingly, the Royals were the second best Clutch team in the league, which bodes well for them if they ever get any pitching.   The Orioles, meanwhile, proved how pathetic an organization they truly are, scoring well below their potential.  The Red Sox, too, were subpar on this count.   Here's the full ranking for the 2000 season:

Team Clutch stat
White Sox 0.296
Royals 0.290
A’s 0.282
Yankees 0.277
Mariners 0.277
Rangers 0.273
Blue Jays 0.267
Tigers 0.266
Red Sox 0.264
Indians 0.261
Angels 0.260
Twins 0.259
Devil Rays 0.259
Orioles 0.255

Enjoy the playoffs.  Go ChiSox!


Comments? Questions? Silly, irrelevant side remarks?
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DNT@dntownsend.com

  

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