Posted by: Peter | April 19, 2010

Kansas City Slumming

Another series, another series victory for the Twins, despite the ugliness of a bad Pavano start followed by a Crainwreck in yesterday’s game. But loathe though I am to complain about winning, sometimes watching the Royals just makes me feel bad for the team and their fans. The first game of the Twins-Royals series featured Zack Greinke, one of the best pitchers in baseball, which should have favored the Royals even with the completely respectable Scott Baker taking the mound for the Twins. But the two pitchers were probably on an even footing, given the lineups they were facing:

               Name  wOBA WAR                Name  wOBA  WAR
          Joe Mauer 0.401 7.3        Billy Butler 0.372  2.3
     Justin Morneau 0.366 2.7    Alberto Callaspo 0.336  1.7
        Jason Kubel 0.353 1.2       David DeJesus 0.336  2.7
    Michael Cuddyer 0.351 1.6     Scott Podsednik 0.315  1.0
        Denard Span 0.347 3.3        Jose Guillen 0.312 -0.3
       Delmon Young 0.346 1.0         Rick Ankiel 0.310  1.0
     Orlando Hudson 0.320 1.6   Willie Bloomquist 0.305  0.6
     Brendan Harris 0.312 0.4 Yuniesky Betancourt 0.301  0.3
         J.J. Hardy 0.312 2.3       Jason Kendall 0.284  0.7

These are the CHONE projections for weighted On Base Average and Wins Above Replacement for these players. Look at the wOBA numbers, which just take account of hitting ability and not defense or playing time.  A third of the Royals lineup was worse than anyone the Twins sent out.  And their second-best hitter would have been a distant seventh in the Twins lineup. Basically, it was Billy Butler and a bunch of scrubs. And this probably underestimates the talent disparity, because I think J.J. Hardy is going to have a better year than that.

So combine that lineup with an off night from Greinke, and it’s not surprising that the Twins had an AVG/OBP/SLG line of .344/.455/.406 on the night. That means that the team’s hitters were, on average, the equivalent of . . . well, of no-one, because baseball players who have to face real opponents don’t put up that kind of on-base percentage with that little power. In the series overall, the Twins hit .289/.415/.412.

Unfortunately, yesterday’s game saw the Twins waste a lot of scoring opportunities. It already seems like a million times that they’ve ended an inning with the bases loaded. As frustrating as that is, though, it’s encouraging in a way. I don’t really think the team’s current poor hitting with runners in scoring position is anything more than bad luck, just as it was luck when they hit unusually well with RISP a couple of years ago. So if anything, we can expect this offense to be even better in the weeks ahead.

To quantify this, I went over to FanGraphs and picked up some team hitting data. My plan was to compare the number of runs the teams are predicted to score, based on the hitting statistics of individual players, and the number of runs actually scored. However, picking the right statistic for this job turned out to be a bit tricky. While FanGraphs has some nice statistics–such as wRC and wRAA–that model run creation for individual players, these don’t seem to work that well as predictors of team performance: when I looked at previous seasons, both of them seemed to overpredict for good-hitting teams and under-predict for bad ones. So I ultimately ended up using a version of BaseRuns, an old statistic invented by David Smyth (I used the second of the three formulas given at the link.) Even this required a tweak: in order to make it work as an estimator, I had to normalize it so that that the total number of league runs scored predicted by BaseRuns equaled the actual total scored.

When I did all that, this was the result:Predicted and actual MLB runs, as of April 19th 2010

The line running through the middle is where a team would fall if it was scoring exactly as many runs as you’d expect. So the great performance of the Phillies is a little bit lucky, but not much–their hitting really has just been fantastic. The Twins, meanwhile, are a little below the line, meaning that they’re underachieving relative to the number of runs you’d expect them to score. The discrepancy isn’t all that great, though. They’ve scored 69 runs against a prediction of about 71, and that -2 margin places them in the middle of the pack relative to the rest of baseball. The Red Sox are the biggest underachievers at around -8 runs, while the Braves are the biggest overachievers at +8.

Still this indicates that the Twins’ current (excellent) pace of run scoring is sustainable, and could even increase. Of course, it’s only sustainable if the hitting performances themselves are sustainable. But nothing I’ve seen suggests that the Twins hitters are on an especially hot streak–some have been great, but others like Denard Span and Jason Kubel have underperformed a bit. So I’m hopeful that there are many more offensive explosions to come.

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