Thursday, April 28, 2005

While Strolling Through The Stats One Day....

The evil IT Nazis don't have their hooks into my home computers -- yet. But, I'm sure they have their eyes gazing warily in my direction. Thank God I'm wearing my aluminum foil-lined Nats cap. It's stylish AND functional.

Time for a stroll around the stats -- this time using teams that are actually IN the National League. All places are out of 16 teams.

Runs Scored -- 91 (12th) Pitt is in last place with 57!?
Batting Average -- .268 (7th)
On-Base Percentage -- .325 (11th)
Slugging Percentage -- .432 (4th)
OPS -- .756 (8th)

That's a pretty telling story right there. It also shows the folly of ranking teams by batting average. On-base percentage typically has a more direct relationship with the number of runs scored by a team than any other stat. It's not perfect, but it's better than any other standard stat.

Someone who looked at those stats blindly would be able to tell a lot about the kind of team we have, and they'd probably be pretty close.

They'd see a team that gets its fair share of base hits, but is below average at getting runners on via other means. They'd see a team that rakes extra-base hits, but, because there aren't a ton of runners on, those hits are 'wasted'. They'd also probably be able to take a reasonable guess that the team isn't hitting with runners in scoring position. It's been a very wasteful and inefficient offense.

Home Runs -- 20 (9th)
Triples -- 10 (1st)
Doubles -- 41 (5th)
Total Bases -- 319 (4th)

They could look at those stats and see that the high slugging isn't necessarily a product of the team slugging home runs. They're below average, even. But, they're ripping doubles and triples. Is that a sign of gap power? Is that a sign of the park they're playing in? Are they just not power hitters?

I'd guess it's park factor at this point mostly. There seem to be a ton of balls into the deep gaps, which increases doubles and triples, but just swallows homers. The majority of home runs have been down the lines. The only home run to the gap that I can recall (and I'm sure I'm missing one or two) is the one Nick Johnson drilled off the clock the other game.

Walks -- 59 (15th)
Strikeouts -- 140 (7th)
Pitches Per Plate Appearance -- 3.58 (15th)
BB/K Ratio -- .42 (16th)

These stats tell the true story of this team and demonstrate the incredible lack of patience this team displays. They're hardly walking. They're striking out quite a bit, but that's not a number that's scary in isolation. Where it presents a problem is in synch with the lack of patience. The BB/K ratio is simply atrocious.

This is a team that doesn't control the strikezone. It doesn't wait for the pitchers to make mistakes, swinging freely at most anything in the zone, especially early in the count.

That's troubling from a strategic reason, in part, because it means they're not making the starters work all that hard. Starters can go deeper into the game and we completely avoid the soft underbelly of major league teams: middle relief.

Think about the few offensive explosions this team has had -- the 9th inning in Atlanta or the Sunday home game against the Diamondbacks. What did both those rallies have in common? Beating the crap out of mediocre middle relievers. Unfortunately, we've mostly faced starters, setup men, or closers.

When you're facing the other team's best, it's hard to score a lot of runs.

Pitching-wise it's a little bit better.

ERA -- 4.50 (11th)
WHIP -- 1.43 (11th)
K/9 -- 5.71 (13th)
OBP Allowed -- .337 (11th)
BB -- 83 (4th)
DIPS ERA -- 4.17 (7th)

At least the numbers, walks exluded, are consistent.

The pitching has almost been the inverse of the hitting -- it strikes out too few batters, and walks too many.

Other than the walks, which are abnormally high (Thanks, Tomo!), that's about what you should expect from this team. It lacks a true power pitcher. Livan has notched his share of Ks, but that's primarily a product of the number of innings he pitches.

It's a kind of staff that encourages the other team to put the ball in play. It's a strategy that can work if you play great defense behind them, which hasn't really been the case. (The defense has been decent, but there are some weak spots, especially range-wise.)

The encouraging number from all that is the DIPS ERA. I suspect many of you are familiar with it. If not, a quick summary of it is that it looks at things the pitcher can control -- homers, strikeouts, walks, etc -- while ignoring others, such as hits. Using those controllable figures, it projects an ERA.

Based on our pitchers' controllable stats, the team ERA is underperforming. I suspect that much of that lies on the arms of Joe Horgan and Tony Osuna, especially this early in the season when little variations can still have huge impacts.

Regardless, there's hope that the pitching, with some better luck, will start producing marginally better results.

So what did we learn?

We can slug with the best of them, walk with the worst of them. We can't hit with runners on. And our pitchers walk too many freakin' batters.

But, did we really need stats to tell us that? Anyone who's watched a handful of games (and that's most of you because all they show are a handful!) can identify these problems.

Still, it's nice to know that the stats are confirming what we're seeing with our eyes.


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