Double Plays and Opportunities

One of my pet peeves in baseball is when an announcer mentions a stat without giving any context. It’s lazy and misleading and it’s usually done with counting stats. For example, both A.J. Pierzynski and Prince Fielder have grounded into 19 double plays this season, but Pierzynski has done it in 60 fewer opportunities. Opportunities are defined as plate appearances with a runner on first with less than two outs.

Why do opportunities need to be considered? Not all plate appearances are created equal. Lead-off batters are guaranteed to have one plate appearance per game that will not end up in a double play. Teams with high on base percentages as a whole, will have more opportunities because they have more players reaching first base. Players in the 2/3/4/5 spots in the lineup will have more opportunities because the hitters in front of them will reach base more often (assuming proper lineup construction).

To show this graphically, I decided to make a scatter plot for double plays and double play opportunities. It includes all players with at least 25 opportunities this season.

Capture
*Data grabbed from the indispensable Baseball-Reference

The red line shows the league average double play rate, which is around 11% of opportunities. Basically, the farther away from the line to the top left, the better the player has been at avoiding double plays. Conversely, the farther from the line to the bottom right, the worse they are. I added labels for the biggest outliers and most notable offensive players.

Some things the players on the top left have in common:
– Left-handed. Left-handed batters are a few feet closer to first base, so their time to first is, on average, shorter.
– Speed. This is simple. Faster players will beat out more throws to first than slower players.
– Flyball hitters. Fewer ground balls, fewer double plays.
– High strikeouts: You can’t ground into a double play if you don’t put the ball in play.

A couple of notes:
– Lonnie Chisenhall has had 70 opportunities and has yet to ground into a double play.
– The Cubs Rizzo and Bryant have combined for 284 opportunities and have grounded into 15 double palys (8 and 7 respectively). Compare that to Yasmany Tomas who has grounded into 15 double plays in just 72 opportunities.
– It’s no coincidence that the games best hitters (Trout, Harper, Donaldson, Goldschmdit, Votto, etc are all at league average or better.

Traveling Championship

Suppose the World Series winner from the previous season held a championship they had to defend every game, sort of a “championship belt”. I’ll call this the “traveling championship”. Once the traveling champion loses, the championship is then transferred to the team that beat them. Then, that team goes on to defend the title. This goes on until the end of the regular season and the last team to hold the title is the “Traveling Champion”.

You might ask:
What does this tell us?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Is the “traveling champion” the best team?
Most likely no.

Why do this?
It’s fun, or at least I think it is.

Without further adieu, the current 2015 Traveling Champion is the Cleveland Indians. Here is how it got there:

Date Champion Defeated
4/7 ARI SFG
4/8 SFG ARI
4/10 SDP SFG
4/13 ARI SDP
4/14 SDP ARI
4/18 CHC SDP
4/19 SDP CHC
4/22 COL SDP
4/25 SFG COL
4/27 LAD SFG
4/28 SFG LAD
4/29 LAD SFG
5/4 MIL LAD
5/5 LAD MIL
5/6 MIL LAD
5/7 LAD MIL
5/13 FLA LAD
5/15 ATL FLA
5/19 TBD ATL
5/20 ATL TBD
5/22 MIL ATL
5/23 ATL MIL
5/25 LAD ATL
5/27 ATL LAD
5/28 SFG ATL
5/30 ATL SFG
6/2 ARI ATL
6/4 NYM ARI
6/5 ARI NYM
6/7 NYM ARI
6/9 SFG NYM
6/11 NYM SFG
6/13 ATL NYM
6/14 NYM ATL
6/17 TOR NYM
6/20 BAL TOR
6/24 BOS BAL
6/25 BAL BOS
6/29 TEX BAL
7/1 BAL TEX
7/2 TEX BAL
7/3 ANA TEX
7/9 SEA ANA
7/10 ANA SEA
7/11 SEA ANA
7/12 ANA SEA
7/23 MIN ANA
7/25 NYY MIN
7/29 TEX NYY
8/1 SFG TEX
8/2 TEX SFG
8/7 SEA TEX
8/8 TEX SEA
8/9 SEA TEX
8/10 BAL SEA
8/11 SEA BAL
8/14 BOS SEA
8/16 SEA BOS
8/17 TEX SEA
8/18 SEA TEX
8/19 TEX SEA
8/20 DET TEX
8/21 TEX DET
8/25 TOR TEX
8/27 TEX TOR
8/31 SDP TEX
9/1 TEX SDP
9/4 ANA TEX
9/5 TEX ANA
9/6 ANA TEX
9/7 LAD ANA
9/9 ANA LAD
9/13 HOU ANA
9/14 TEX HOU
9/18 SEA TEX
9/19 TEX SEA
9/20 SEA TEX
9/23 KCR SEA
9/25 CLE KCR

Here is the number of games each team has successfully defended the championship:

Team Successfully Defended Times Won Championship
TEX 15 13
ANA 12 6
LAD 9 6
ATL 6 6
SDP 6 4
BAL 5 4
SFG 4 6
NYM 3 4
NYY 3 1
TOR 3 2
ARI 2 4
COL 2 1
SEA 2 9
BOS 1 2
KCR 1 1
MIN 1 1
CHC 0 1
CLE 0 1
DET 0 1
FLA 0 1
HOU 0 1
MIL 0 3
TBD 0 1

Disparity in Division Quality

It’s time to change the playoff seeding, just as the NBA did recently.

The following is each division’s record vs non-divisional opponents during the wild card era (1994-present). As you can see, the NL Central (.555) has the seventh best winning percentage of any division, which equates to a 90-72 record over 162 games.

The NL East, however, has the fourth worst winning percentage (.424), which equates to a 69-93 record.

Year Lg Div W L W-L%
2002 AL West 251 165 0.603
2001 AL West 250 166 0.601
2008 AL East 255 194 0.568
2012 AL West 237 183 0.564
2013 AL East 243 188 0.564
2010 AL East 251 199 0.558
2015 NL Central 228 183 0.555
1998 AL East 316 254 0.554
2003 NL East 237 192 0.552
2011 AL East 248 202 0.551
1994 AL Central 205 168 0.550
2009 AL West 230 190 0.548
2005 NL East 239 199 0.546
2002 NL West 234 195 0.546
1994 NL East 208 175 0.543
1997 AL East 307 263 0.539
1997 NL East 307 263 0.539
2006 AL West 226 194 0.538
2000 NL West 298 256 0.538
2013 NL Central 231 199 0.537
2004 NL Central 232 200 0.537
2006 AL Central 233 201 0.537
2007 NL West 241 209 0.536
2009 AL East 241 209 0.536
2002 NL East 229 199 0.535
2001 NL West 230 200 0.535
2011 NL East 240 209 0.535
2009 NL West 240 210 0.533
2012 AL East 240 210 0.533
1999 AL East 300 264 0.532
2003 AL West 221 195 0.531
2008 NL Central 263 233 0.530
2015 AL East 218 196 0.527
2004 AL West 219 197 0.526
1997 NL West 265 239 0.526
2003 AL East 226 204 0.526
1994 AL East 215 195 0.524
2012 NL East 236 214 0.524
2010 NL East 236 214 0.524
1996 AL Central 287 261 0.524
2004 AL East 225 205 0.523
2000 AL West 260 237 0.523
2007 AL West 219 201 0.521
1995 AL West 220 202 0.521
2005 AL West 219 205 0.517
1996 NL West 254 238 0.516
2014 AL East 221 209 0.514
1999 AL West 258 244 0.514
2005 AL East 226 214 0.514
1998 NL Central 327 310 0.513
2015 AL Central 212 201 0.513
2014 AL West 220 210 0.512
2006 NL East 225 215 0.511
1998 NL West 292 279 0.511
2010 NL West 230 220 0.511
1995 NL West 214 206 0.510
2014 NL Central 219 211 0.509
2000 AL Central 286 276 0.509
1999 NL West 282 274 0.507
2007 AL East 228 222 0.507
1999 NL East 283 276 0.506
2005 NL Central 251 245 0.506
2003 NL West 217 212 0.506
1994 NL Central 183 179 0.506
2014 AL Central 217 213 0.505
1995 NL East 231 228 0.503
1999 NL Central 301 297 0.503
2011 NL West 226 223 0.503
2008 AL Central 226 224 0.502
2007 NL East 225 225 0.500
1996 AL West 245 245 0.500
1998 AL West 251 252 0.499
2006 NL West 217 218 0.499
2007 AL Central 224 226 0.498
1995 AL Central 231 233 0.498
2014 NL East 214 216 0.498
2011 AL West 209 211 0.498
2004 NL East 213 217 0.495
1996 NL East 272 278 0.495
2015 AL West 205 210 0.494
2005 AL Central 215 221 0.493
2000 NL East 274 283 0.492
2012 NL West 221 229 0.491
1996 NL Central 270 280 0.491
2006 AL East 215 223 0.491
2000 AL East 275 287 0.489
2013 AL Central 210 220 0.488
2001 NL East 210 220 0.488
1995 NL Central 227 238 0.488
2015 NL West 202 212 0.488
2010 AL Central 219 231 0.487
2013 NL West 209 221 0.486
1997 AL West 244 260 0.484
1995 AL East 222 238 0.483
2008 NL East 217 233 0.482
2002 AL East 207 223 0.481
2008 AL West 201 218 0.480
2009 NL East 215 235 0.478
1996 AL East 262 288 0.476
2010 AL West 198 222 0.471
1998 NL East 268 302 0.470
2003 NL Central 220 248 0.470
2013 NL East 201 229 0.467
2009 NL Central 232 266 0.466
2001 NL Central 218 250 0.466
2001 AL Central 200 230 0.465
2004 NL West 200 230 0.465
2014 NL West 199 231 0.463
2011 AL Central 208 242 0.462
1997 AL Central 261 309 0.458
2013 AL West 197 234 0.457
1997 NL Central 260 310 0.456
2011 NL Central 226 270 0.456
2000 NL Central 272 326 0.455
2012 NL Central 225 271 0.454
2004 AL Central 195 235 0.454
2010 NL Central 227 275 0.452
2001 AL East 194 236 0.451
1998 AL Central 256 313 0.450
1994 NL West 156 193 0.447
2009 AL Central 201 249 0.447
2007 NL Central 221 275 0.446
2012 AL Central 199 251 0.442
1999 AL Central 248 317 0.439
2008 NL West 195 255 0.433
2006 NL Central 210 275 0.433
2002 NL Central 184 247 0.427
2005 NL West 189 255 0.426
2015 NL East 175 238 0.424
2003 AL Central 180 250 0.419
1994 AL West 144 201 0.417
2002 AL Central 177 253 0.412

The top three teams in the National League Central also have the three best records in the league. If the season ended today, two of them would have to settle for a one game “play-in”, just to enter the tournament. This type of situation wasn’t as big of a problem before the addition of the second wild card in 2012, when all playoff teams were in the tournament. But now, it is unfair to force better teams to have to win a one game crap shoot.

If we are stuck with three divisions and five playoff teams, I would rather see all division winners plus two wild card teams advance to the playoffs with the caveat that the two teams with the worst record face each other in the “play-in” game. Admittedly, it’s not perfect, but it is better than what we have now.

Roger Angell on Luis Tiant

Luis Tiant turns 74 years old today. So I thought I’d share this description of his ability to kill time on the mound, by Roger Angell in Five Seasons.

Game then runs down, stops, dies, thanks to Luis Tiant, Bost. pitcher. Tiant, noted for odd pitching mannerisms, is also a famous mound dawdler. Stands on hill like sunstruck archeologist at Knossos. Regards ruins. Studies sun. Studies landscape. Looks at artifact in hand. Wonders: Keep this potsherd or throw it away? Does Smithsonian want it? Hmm. Prepares to throw it away. Pauses. Sudd. discovers writing on object. Hmm. Possible Linear B inscript.? Sighs. Decides. Throws. Wipes face. Repeats whole thing. Innings & hours creep by. Spectators clap, yawn, droop, expire. In stands, 57 disloc. jaws set new modern AL record, single game. Somebody wins game in end, can’t remember who.

The book covers the 1972-1976 seasons, and this particular description comes from a Red Sox/White Sox game on June 7, 1972. The actual game is of little importance to the quote above, but it should be noted that this 2-1 White Sox victory finished in just 2 hours and 42 minutes. Maybe because Tiant only pitched five innings.

2012-2014 Red Sox

Just a quick post on how much of a roller coaster the Red Sox have been on over the past few years. The 2012 Red Sox had the lowest winning percentage of any team that would go on to win the World Series the following season.

Year Team W L W%
2012 BOS 69 93 0.426
1986 MIN 71 91 0.438
1987 LAN 73 89 0.451
1968 NYN 73 89 0.451
1953 NY1 70 84 0.455
1913 BSN 69 82 0.457
1990 MIN 74 88 0.457
1958 LAN 71 83 0.461
1989 CIN 75 87 0.463
2001 ANA 75 87 0.463

Not only that, but the 2014 Red Sox had the second lowest winning percentage of any defending World Series winner. Only the 1998 Marlins were worse and we all know that story.

Year Team W L W%
1998 FLO 54 108 0.333
2014 BOS 71 91 0.438
1991 CIN 74 88 0.457
1918 CHA 57 67 0.460
1932 SLN 72 82 0.468
1986 KCA 76 86 0.469
2013 SFN 76 86 0.469
1967 BAL 76 85 0.472
2003 ANA 77 85 0.475
1994 TOR 55 60 0.478

Not to mention the 2011 season, after being considered an all-time great team going into the season and then the epic collapse after being up 9 games in the wild card with less than a month to go. It truly has been a wild ride in Boston the past few seasons. With the reports of their willingness to spend money on free agents this offseason, it’s not unreasonable to expect them to be a contender again in 2015.