Fun With Statistics

I’m a sucker for baseball books.  I work in a bookstore and thankfully we’ve moved the sports books section so that it’s against the wall on the outside of the building.  It used to be set up right along the walkway towards the front exits, so I’d find myself walking towards the door to head home when out of nowhere, a beacon of light would shine on the bookcase, the songs of angels beckoning me to approach.  Time stood still.

Inevitably, I’d buy something.  Great for entertainment and enjoyment, but man, it adds up.

I can tune out the siren song better with that case against the wall, but with every new shipment of books we receive, I can’t help but peek at the sports sorting shelf to see if there’s another new gem I must have.

One of the newer acquisitions in my possession is the Bill James Handbook for 2011 and there were some interesting nuggets of information in here I’d like to share.

Some of these are things we already know. For instance, Billy Butler is considered one of the better young hitters in the game. His sixth place finish in the American League in batting average attests to that, as does his third-most hits in the AL.

What you might not know is that in 2010, he had the second highest OPS among AL hitters under the age of 26 (.857 behind Evan Longoria at .879). That’s partially due to a lack of home and away splits, as Butler hit almost equally well on the road (.315) as he did at Kauffman Stadium (.320). He also destroyed fastballs, registering the eighth best OPS on fastballs in the league (.934).

Bill James has a fun stat that calculates the number of runs over a 27 out game a lineup of one player would produce. It’s called Runs Created per 27 Outs. Butler’s RC/27 in 2010 was 5.4, fourth best among those under 26 in the AL. A team of nine Butlers would produce pretty well. That’s despite a league leading number of times grounding into a double play.

What you may not have known is that Mitch Maier‘s 2010 was among the best in the AL in avoiding the double play. He grounded into a twin killing in only 3.66 percent of opportunities to do so. That puts him in good company with Carl Crawford, Ichiro Suzuki and Johnny Damon. Also Don Kelly and Travis Hafner. So…maybe that’s not an indicator of much. Moving on.

Only Juan Pierre struck out less per plate appearance than Alberto Callaspo in 2010 in the AL. Callaspo, traded to the Angels in July, has always been good at making contact. In 2010, all that contact led to 22 GIDP, fifth most in the AL. Ouch.

I wasn’t a fan of the Scott Podsednik signing before the season, and wasn’t sold on him during the season, but while in a Royals uniform, he produced. Among AL leadoff hitters, he had the fifth best on base percentage, better than Elvis Andrus, Derek Jeter, and Austin Jackson, who all finished just behind him in the top ten. Pods also tied for fifth most triples in the AL in 2010…with Mitch Maier. They both had six. With runners in scoring position, Podsednik hit .330 in the AL, the tenth best average in that situation.

Another interesting stat James cooked up is the offensive winning percentage. You take a hypothetical lineup of nine of the same player, set them up with average pitching and defense, and play a season with them, comparing their RC/27 with the league average for runs scored. It’s basically how often that team would win. A team of nine Yuniesky Betancourts (shudder) would win 38 percent of their games. That’s tenth worst in the AL in 2010. Nine Callaspos would only win 36.5% of the time, which surprises me. He had THAT bad of a year.

On the mound, Kyle Davies and Bruce Chen both benefitted from four cheap wins – wins in which their game score was below 50. Game scores, if you don’t know, are calculated by James by starting with a score of 50, adding points for positive events like strikeouts and innings completed past the fourth, and subtracting points for hits, walks and earned runs. Davies and Chen had some good luck to win games in which they’d posted lower than average results. Davies had the lowest average game score in the AL in 2010 with 45.09. That doesn’t bode well for his chances of being offered a contract this week if the Royals front office follows Bill James’s calculations.

In other words, Davies is safe.

Interesting side note: Kevin Millwood, who the Royals are supposedly interested in, had the second worst average game score at 45.90. Great.

Part of Davies problems were that he gave up the fifth most walks and the ninth most hits in the AL. That resulted in the fourth most runs allowed in 2010 (and third most earned). Maybe it has something to do with his third-lowest percentage of fastballs thrown (46.3%). At least he can throw faster than 90 mph with regularity. Sean O’Sullivan (834) and Bruce Chen (583) were in the top ten for pitches thrown at lower than 80 mph – though neither were even close to the number thrown by Tim Wakefield (2098). Zack Greinke tried to balance that out by throwing the eighth most pitches of 95 mph or higher, with 638. Kyle Farnsworth threw seven pitches of 100 mph or greater. If he did so 216 more times, he’d have tied Joel Zumaya for the league lead. Side note: Joel Zumaya throws hard, but I wonder why he gets hurt every year. Hmm.

If there’s any real value in the fielding statistics, the move to left field is a great thing for Alex Gordon. In 2010 (and in limited time, since he spent most of the season in Omaha), Gordon saved six runs in left field and made five more plays that an average left fielder wouldn’t have made. That may not seem like much, but Gordon did that in 55 games in left field. Carl Crawford played 154 games in left and saved 14 runs over the course of 2010.

There’s a lot more in this book, from Billy Butler‘s baserunning score (avert your eyes) to Yuniesky Betancourt‘s surprising ranking among shortstops in range factor (which isn’t always a good thing – he can’t boot a ball he doesn’t reach, after all).  We’ll look at these other things over the course of the offseason

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Topics: AL Central, Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Bruce Chen, Kansas City Royals, KC, Kyle Davies, MLB, Royals, Scott Podsednik, Yuniesky Betancourt, Zack Greinke

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