The Third Basemen

Last year around this time, you heard a lot of talk about the decline of third base production around major league baseball. Or at least I did. Or at least it seems likeĀ I did. “It’s a sinkhole!”, is an example of something someone might have said about the position. “Why don’t we just play two shortstops?” is another thing someone might have said. Although probably not. Anyway, third baseman around the league in 2011 OPSed only .707. This was below second basemen at .709, and just above catchers at .703. It was a poor showing. Only 5 teams got an OPS of over .800 out of their third basemen last year, while there were 7 teams under .650, including the Mariners at only .526. (I’m looking at you Chone Figgins)

This year, league third basemen are at .753, back above second basemen, center fielders, and left fielders. There are 9 teams that have received at least an .800 OPS from their third baseman, and just 3 teams under .650. But what’s the cause of this increase? Is it rookies who have come in to the league and torn it up? Is it players who have come back from injury? Is it a few players having career years? Let’s take a look:

2012 2011
Rank 2012 HR OPS Change Rank HR OPS
1 DET 41 1.010 0.393 27 9 0.617
3 MIL 27 0.879 0.281 29 11 0.598
10 PIT 31 0.795 0.185 28 10 0.610
19 SEA 17 0.709 0.183 30 5 0.526
7 SDP 29 0.844 0.134 14 7 0.710
5 STL 23 0.858 0.133 12 12 0.725
11 COL 8 0.759 0.130 25 14 0.629
2 NYM 20 0.881 0.118 7 16 0.763
6 ATL 22 0.846 0.092 8 20 0.754
12 MIA 18 0.749 0.086 23 6 0.663
9 WSN 24 0.803 0.079 13 14 0.724
8 NYY 26 0.821 0.074 9 19 0.747
23 LAD 9 0.695 0.064 24 10 0.631
15 MIN 22 0.727 0.055 21 14 0.672
13 HOU 19 0.735 0.047 18 11 0.688
17 CIN 19 0.720 0.028 17 16 0.692
20 KCR 20 0.707 0.024 19 9 0.683
4 TEX 32 0.861 0.023 2 27 0.838
18 BAL 17 0.715 0.019 15 26 0.696
25 OAK 22 0.676 -0.005 20 16 0.681
28 PHI 5 0.648 -0.017 22 8 0.665
30 CHW 15 0.602 -0.022 26 10 0.624
27 CLE 11 0.667 -0.029 16 15 0.696
24 ARI 18 0.677 -0.057 10 20 0.734
26 LAA 9 0.668 -0.065 11 7 0.733
22 TOR 12 0.705 -0.068 6 27 0.773
16 TBR 13 0.723 -0.078 5 34 0.801
14 SFG 14 0.731 -0.086 3 25 0.817
21 BOS 18 0.707 -0.105 4 20 0.812
29 CHC 12 0.613 -0.247 1 26 0.860

Not surprisingly, the team with the biggest increase in 2012 compared to 2011 is the Tigers. Who would have guessed that going from Brandon Inge and Don Kelly to Miguel Cabrera would increase your offensive production? The next largest increase is the Brewers, who went from second last in 2011 with Casey McGehee to third overall in 2012 with the signing of Aramis Ramirez. Pedro Alvarez’s emergence in Pittsburgh has resulted in the Pirates having the third largest increase in 2012, followed by the Mariners, who switched from Chone Figgins to someone who can actually make contact with a baseball. Other large increases include Chase Headley’s breakout with the Padres, a full season of David Freese in St. Louis, and David Wright’s resurgence. Overall, 19 teams have had increased production from their third basemen in 2012, including 8 with a jump of more than 100 points of OPS. Of the 11 teams that declined, only two were by more than 100 points of OPS; the Red Sox and the Cubs. The Red Sox decline is largely a product of Youkilis’ slow start and replacements once Middlebrooks got injured, while the Cubs lost Aramis Ramirez and replaced him with Luis Valbuena and Ian Stewart.

So really the increase in production is a combination of a number of factors. There’s some players who have had breakthroughs or returned to past form (Headley, Wright, Zimmerman). There are some teams who simply replaced sink holes with average production (Mariners, Rockies, Pirates). And then there’s Miguel Cabrera.

Team Travel vs Team Winning Percentage

Recently over at FanGraphs there were two articles posted looking at how many miles each MLB team has to travel in the 2013 season. (AL here)(NL here) As one could predict, the teams in the West divisions end up traveling substantially more than the teams in the East and Central divisions. What I wondered though, was if this actually had any effect on a team’s performance during the season. That is, does the amount of miles that a team travels over the course of a season have any effect on that teams’ winning percentage? If it did, you would anticipate that the teams that travel more miles during the season would see some negative effect on their overall winning percentage – due to the additional stress or other factors.

My feeling, was that due to the methods of travel available to all major league teams – charter aircrafts, etc., the effect of additional travel would be extremely minimal.

The first thing that I did, was to calculate the distance in air miles between each major league city, using this website. This was rather tedious, but unfortunately my interns were out of the office today, so I had to to it myself. Next I used the MLB schedule files from 2005-2011, available on Retrosheet, to calculate the travel destination pairings that each team made in each season. I chose to go back to 2005 because that’s the first year after the Expos moved to Washington, and no other team has moved locations since then. I then got each teams winning percentage in said season to be able to see if there was any correlation between miles traveled and winning percentage.

Before we get to the results, let’s look at a couple things. From 2005-2011, here is the average miles traveled by each team in a season, from highest to lowest:

Team Average Miles
SEA 49021
OAK 46713
ANA 46426
SFN 39620
SDN 38971
LAN 38125
TBA 37940
TEX 37155
MIA 35596
BOS 34293
ARI 34145
HOU 32276
COL 31899
NYA 31788
TOR 31369
NYN 31102
PHI 30389
BAL 30044
PIT 29675
ATL 29593
KCA 28658
DET 28548
WAS 28353
MIN 28223
CLE 28168
SLN 26399
CHA 26337
CHN 26170
CIN 26075
MIL 25326

The Mariners have gotten the short end of the stick (long end?)in terms of travel miles since 2005, average almost 50,000 miles a season; almost double that of the Milwaukee Brewers.

The highest single season miles total for an individual team was 54,670 by the Seattle Mariners in 2008. They went 61-101 that year. The lowest single season miles total was 22,703 by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2005. They went 100-62 that year. Maybe there is a correlation! On to the results.

*Click to make larger

So, when I ran the miles traveled by each team against their winning percentage in that season, the R-square came out to be 0.0000977. Really small. No statistical significance at all. I also ran total miles traveled against a team’s road winning percentage, because I thought maybe the additional miles traveled would affect a team more on the road. The R-square for that was 0.0000809; even smaller than with overall winning percentage.

In conclusion, (as long as I didn’t screw anything up horribly), the amount that a team travels during a season has no statistically significant correlation with the team’s winning percentage. I don’t really have a valid explanation for this, other than the relative comfort that all teams travel in these days, but it would seem that even though the teams out west travel more, they don’t face any repercussions for doing so.

Split the Season in Two!

I find the 1981 season to be quite fascinating, as due to a strike in the middle of season, the playoff teams were determined in a strange fashion. Whichever teams were leading their division pre-strike would make the playoffs, but whichever teams lead their division post-strike would make the playoffs as well. This lead to the Cincinnati Reds having the best record in the NL West for the season as a whole, but because they finished second in both the first half and second half – they did not make the playoffs.

Well wouldn’t it be fun to see what would happen if this method of playoff determining was still in effect today? Not really? Well, that’s just your opinion, and I’m going to do it anyway.

The rules for the playoffs(as decided by myself . I’m often referred to a young Bowie Kuhn.) are as follows: The winner of each division in each half qualifies for the playoffs. If the same team wins both halves, then the second place team with the best single half winning percentage wins the second playoff spot. The two teams in each league with the best single half winning percentages get first round byes in the playoffs, while the remaining four teams will square off in the first round.

Now let’s move on to the results of the first half:

AL East W L W-L% GB NL East W L W-L% GB
NYY 52 33 0.612 WSN 49 34 0.590
BAL 45 40 0.529 7 ATL 46 39 0.541 4
TBR 45 41 0.523 7.5 NYM 46 40 0.535 4.5
TOR 43 43 0.500 9.5 MIA 41 44 0.482 9
BOS 43 43 0.500 9.5 PHI 37 50 0.425 14
AL Central W L W-L% GB NL Central W L W-L% GB
CHW 47 38 0.553 PIT 48 37 0.565
CLE 44 41 0.518 3 CIN 47 38 0.553 1
DET 44 42 0.512 3.5 STL 46 40 0.535 2.5
KCR 37 47 0.440 9.5 MIL 40 45 0.471 8
MIN 36 49 0.424 11 CHC 33 52 0.388 15
HOU 33 53 0.384 15.5
AL West W L W-L% GB
TEX 52 34 0.605 NL West W L W-L% GB
LAA 48 38 0.558 4 LAD 47 40 0.540
OAK 43 43 0.500 9 SFG 46 40 0.535 0.5
SEA 36 51 0.414 16.5 ARI 42 43 0.494 4
SDP 34 53 0.391 13
COL 33 52 0.388 13

The Yankees ran away with the AL East in the first half, and also had the best winning percentage in the AL. The White Sox finished three games up on the surprising Indians to win the Central, while the Rangers finished four games ahead of the Angels to take the West.

In the NL, the Nationals won the playoff spot in the East, while the Pirates finished a game ahead of the Reds to take the Central. There was some controversy in the NL West, as the Dodgers finished only 0.5 games ahead of the Giants, but also were allowed to play one more game than the Giants – perhaps a sign of the schedule makers showing an LA bias. Bruce Bochy was reportedly furious.

On to the second half standings as of today:

AL East W L W-L% GB NL East W L W-L% GB
BAL 39 24 0.619 WSN 40 23 0.635
TBR 33 29 0.532 5.5 ATL 39 25 0.609 1.5
NYY 31 30 0.508 7 PHI 37 24 0.607 2
TOR 23 36 0.390 14 MIA 25 39 0.391 15.5
BOS 25 38 0.397 14 NYM 20 41 0.328 19
AL Central W L W-L% GB NL Central W L W-L% GB
DET 34 27 0.557 CIN 42 21 0.667
CHW 34 28 0.548 0.5 MIL 35 27 0.565 6.5
KCR 29 34 0.460 6 STL 32 30 0.516 9.5
MIN 25 38 0.397 10 PIT 26 36 0.419 15.5
CLE 17 46 0.270 18 CHC 25 38 0.397 17
HOU 15 47 0.242 26.5
AL West W L W-L% GB
OAK 41 20 0.672 NL West W L W-L% GB
TEX 35 26 0.574 6 SFG 39 23 0.629
SEA 34 28 0.548 7.5 SDP 37 24 0.607 1.5
LAA 33 29 0.532 8.5 ARI 31 31 0.500 8
LAD 29 31 0.483 9
COL 25 37 0.403 14

The Orioles are well on their way to winning the second AL East playoff spot, and they currently sport a better winning percentage than the Yankees did in the first half. The Tigers and White Sox are battling it out in the Central, although the White Sox already clinched a spot in the first half. The Tigers will make the playoffs as long as they can keep their winning percentage over the .518 that the Indians posted in the first half. In the West, the A’s are running away with the division, and currently have the best AL winning percentage. If the season ended today, the A’s and Orioles would have first round byes, while the Yankees would host the White Sox and the Rangers would host the Tigers.

Over in the NL, Washington is likely going to take the division again, but because they already clinched in the first half, the real race is for second place between the Braves and the Phillies, who are only separated by a half game. The Reds are cruising in the Central, and currently have the highest NL winning percentage of any team. Over in the West, the Giants hold a 1.5 game lead over the upstart Padres, who have really turned it around in the second half. If the season ended today, the Reds and Nationals would have first round byes, while the Giants would host the Dodgers, and the Braves would host the Pirates.

These last few weeks of the season should be exciting to say the least!


The Orioles Do Not Suck

The Orioles won their 82nd game of the year yesterday, securing their first winning record since 1997 – when they won 98 games and the AL East. They won 79 games in 1998, then 78 games in 1999, which they would match again in 2004. Between 2007 and 2011, they did not win 70 games in any season. They were terrible for an extended period of time. Every year after the season was over, the Orioles played a round robin tournament against local high school teams. They came in last every time.* Their only comparables in terms of long periods of awfulness are the Pirates and the Royals. The Pirates haven’t had a winning record since 1992, while the Royals have had one winning record in the last 19 seasons – when they won 83 games in 2003.

But back to the Orioles. They’re only a game back of the Yankees for first in the AL East. You’ve heard of the Yankees right? They have the highest payroll in baseball. The Orioles are ranked 19th – about $115 million back. Which seems like a huge problem – except that Tampa Bay has made the playoffs 3 of the last 4 years with a lower payroll than the Orioles. The Orioles have had some pretty large payrolls in the past, but they haven’t spent their money in the smartest ways; ways that transfer over to the win column. The same could probably be said for this year. The Orioles current starting lineup includes both Nate McLouth and Lew Ford. Lew Ford is currently sporting an OPS under .600, but keeps getting at-bats because the Orioles don’t really have any better options. Randy Wolf started for Baltimore today. In a pennant race. That should tell you something about the current state of the Orioles. But somehow it’s working.

It’s the end of an era. The Orioles have sucked for a really long time. In a way they kind of still suck this year, but they’ve still won a lot of games. They could win the AL East. Which would be really strange. I eagerly anticipate seeing how the Orioles perform in 2012. Obviously they’ll have at least a partially different roster, but will they be able to over-perform their run differential again? Or will they fade back into the depths of the AL East? I hope that they revert to their terrible ways. There’s already too much uncertainty in the world to have to worry about the Orioles actually being good. Damn you Orioles.

* I made this up.

All of the Giancarlo Stanton Home Runs – Part Nine

Well, Giancarlo knocked another one out of the park a few days ago, so that means it’s time for the return of All of the Giancarlo Stanton Home Runs. It was his 34th of the season, which equaled his total from 2011. GIF!

Home run #34 – September 11 – off Roy Halladay – 371 feet

Roy Halladay generally seems like a pretty intense guy. He doesn’t like talking to anyone on the days that he takes the mound. Rumor has it that before one of his starts in 2011, Wilson Valdez said “hello” to Roy Halladay. This angered Halladay so much that he hired a hitman to murder Wilson Valdez. The hit was scheduled for January 31, 2012. (The hitman is a very busy guy – no time to do it earlier.) Unfortunately for Halladay, Wilson Valdez was traded to the Cincinnati Reds on January 25 – just days before the hit was to take place. Fortunately for Valdez, the hitman that Halladay hired would not travel to Cincinnati, due to some past bad experiences. Valdez was saved.

Fast forward to September 11th (never forget), when Giancarlo Stanton hit this homerun off Halladay. Halladay was so furious after he gave up the home run, that after the game he contacted a hitman in Cincinnati to murder Wilson Valdez; again. Don’t ask me what the two things have to do with one another. Just know that Wilson Valdez’s days are numbered.


Hopefully Giancarlo will go on a nice home run streak before the end of the season so that he can get to 40 bombs. That would be swell. Until next time!

Multi-Year Mariners

Chone Figgins has been awful this year. He was also awful last year. The year before that he wasn’t awful, but he also wasn’t very good. That was in 2010, the first year of a 4 year – $36 million contract that he had signed with the Mariners that off season. Obviously that deal did not work out for the Mariners, as Figgins has been almost historically-terrible in the last 2 seasons, which lead me to wonder the results of other Mariners multi-year free agent signings that took place in the last several years. The only other one I could remember was Adrian Beltre, which turned out OK, but it turns out the overall results are not good.

Chone Figgins – Signed 4 years / $36 million for 2010-2013 – We’re now almost 3/4 of the way through the deal, and Figgins has been worth approximately -1.2 fWAR over those 3 seasons, while being paid for somewhere around 5-8 wins. When Figgins signed the deal, he was coming off a 6.9 fWAR season with the Angels, so the expectation that he would be good was not ridiculous. He was also going to be 32 during his first season with the Mariners though, so it was also not unreasonable to expect some decline. Not the sort of decline that happened though.

Miguel Olivo – Signed 2 years / $7 million for 2011-2012 – The Mariners are only paying Olivo $3.5 million a season, which isn’t very high for a decent starting catcher. Unfortunately for the Mariners, Olivo has not been a decent starting catcher. His OBP over his 2 years in Seattle is .236. There are 9 pitchers who have a higher OBP than that over the last 2 seasons (min 40 PA.) Olivo has been worth 0 fWAR for Seattle. The Mariners are only paying him for about 0.5-1 wins/season, but he hasn’t even provided that. Over his previous 2 seasons before signing the deal, Olivo was worth 4.6 fWAR with the Rockies and the Royals.

Carlos Silva – Signed 4 years / $48 million for 2008-2011 – This signing was made by the Mariners previous GM Bill Bavasi, and could very well have played a major role in Bavasi’s firing. When the deal was signed, Silva had a career K/9 under 4. That’s ridiculous. Unsurprisingly, the deal did not work out. Silva only made it though 2 seasons with Seattle before being exchanged for Milton Bradley. In his time with the Mariners, Silva threw 180.2 innings with a 6.81 ERA. Silva actually managed 1.3 fWAR over his time with the Mariners, but if you look at RA-9 wins, he actually cost the Mariners 1.9 wins.

Miguel Batista – Signed 3 years / $25 million for 2007-2009 – Batista was going into his age 36 season at the time of the signing, but he was coming off a 3 win season for the Diamondbacks. Batista was pretty average in his first year with the Mariners, putting up 2.4 fWAR in 193 innings in 2007. In 2008 he struggled and was moved to the bullpen, where he finished the season with over 6 BB/9 innings and -1.3 fWAR. In the final year of the deal, Batista pitched at replacement level out of the pen. Over the 3 years of the contract, Batista totaled 1.1 wins for $25 million.

Adrian Beltre – Signed 5 years / $64 million for 2005-2009 – The year before this deal was signed, Beltre hit 48 bombs and was worth 9.9 fWAR for the Dodgers. Obviously he wouldn’t reproduce those numbers, especially in Safeco, but the Mariners likely thought they were still getting a valuable player. Which they did end up getting, but one who somewhat underperformed at the plate, although Beltre largely made up for it with his defense. Over the 5 years with Seattle, Beltre was worth 16.7 fWAR, or $3.83 million/win. I’m not sure what the “market” value for WAR was back in 2005, because no one really cared about that sort of thing back then, but this contract definitely turned out the best of any of the 5 listed here.

So there you have it – the 5 most recent multi-year free agent signings made by the Mariners. One worked out for the most part, the other 4 turned out pretty terribly. Now, in this time the Mariners also re-signed Felix Hernandez, which has worked out terrifically, but I’m just focusing on free-agent signings here – which have definitely not been terrific for the Mariners.

What is going on in San Diego?

Have you heard of San Diego? It’s in California. I’ve never been there, but it sounds lovely. Did you know that they have a baseball team? It’s true! They’re called “The Padres”. You probably don’t pay much attention to the Padres, because not many people do, but if you had been paying attention, you would see that the Padres are doing some interesting things. How interesting? Well, that depends on your standards of interesting things. My standards are quite low, so I would classify what the Padres are doing as “quite interesting”. Don’t worry. I’m not happy about these last few sentences either.

Here is the San Diego Padres record by month:

April 7 17 75 99 0.292
May 10 18 92 129 0.357
June 12 15 104 123 0.444
July 15 11 123 99 0.577
August 18 10 119 109 0.643
September 5 4 54 48 0.556

Take a second to peruse those numbers, and you’ll see that the Padres started off the season quite terribly. Up till the end of June they were 29-50, and had been outscored by 80 runs. Not great. But not unexpected. The Padres were largely predicted to finish in, or near, the basement in the NL West. So they were performing about as expected. Maybe a little worse, but not a lot worse.

Then July came about, and since then the Padres have gone 40-25, while outscoring their opponents by 40 runs. How did the Padres turn it around so abruptly? Let’s start by looking at their hitters performance by month:

April/March 883 75 11 0.215 0.299 0.331 0.631 0.269
May 1049 92 15 0.232 0.303 0.357 0.660 0.291
June 1015 104 19 0.249 0.317 0.372 0.689 0.301
July 1012 123 22 0.249 0.326 0.392 0.718 0.295
August 1035 119 26 0.264 0.328 0.409 0.736 0.306
Sept/Oct 372 54 12 0.296 0.369 0.454 0.823 0.354

Well would you look at that. The Padres team batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage have each increased in every month of the season. I doubt that this has happened too many times. I would look it up, but I don’t know how.
Now let’s look at their pitching by month:

April/March 7 17 3.53 214.1 177 99 22 7.9 2.01
May 10 18 4.36 247.2 243 129 26 7.1 1.86
June 12 15 3.84 237 218 123 32 8.3 2.15
July 15 11 3.57 232 210 99 23 7.1 2.61
August 18 10 3.79 247 226 109 27 7.2 2.33
Sept/Oct 5 4 4.79 82.2 93 48 12 8.3 3.04

Not really too much of a trend here. The Padres’ pitching has stayed far more consistent over the course of the season than the hitting. It was worse in May and June, when they were a combined 22-33, but it was really good in April, when they were 7-17. It’s almost as if – if your hitters are terrible, it doesn’t matter how good your pitching is, you’re still going to lose a lot of games.
How about some individual performances? I’m going to split the season into two halves, April-June and July-present. Here are the players that played the majority of the games at each position over for the Padres over each period, and their slash lines:

April-June Pos AVG OBP SLG July-Sept Pos AVG OBP SLG
Nick Hundley C 0.166 0.226 0.259 Yasmani Grandal C 0.260 0.372 0.435
Yonder Alonso 1B 0.259 0.333 0.346 Yonder Alonso 1B 0.278 0.350 0.425
Orlando Hudson 2B 0.211 0.260 0.317 Logan Forsythe 2B 0.296 0.374 0.397
Everth Cabrera SS 0.246 0.331 0.381 Everth Cabrera SS 0.240 0.313 0.291
Chase Headley 3B 0.271 0.369 0.415 Chase Headley 3B 0.294 0.366 0.565
Chris Denorfia LF 0.289 0.353 0.428 Carlos Quentin LF 0.238 0.335 0.455
Cameron Maybin CF 0.204 0.282 0.292 Cameron Maybin CF 0.302 0.354 0.423
Will Venable RF 0.259 0.324 0.434 Will Venable RF 0.269 0.364 0.455

Lot of improvements here, starting off with actually having a catcher that can hold a bat. Grandal has been pretty good since coming up in July, putting up 1.6 fWAR in only 161 PAs. At first base, Alonso has increased his power numbers in the second half; and while they’re still low for a first basemen, they’re much improved over the first half. At second, Forsythe has hit quite well in the second half after taking the starting job from Alexi Amarista, who took it from Orlando Hudson.

Chase Headley has started crushing the ball in the second half, with 19 HRs since July 1. He’s certainly been a big part of the Padres resurgence, probably leaving many Padres fans happy that he wasn’t traded at the deadline. In left, there actually hasn’t been much of an improvement, as Quentin put up his best numbersĀ  just after he came off the DL in late May. He’s cooled in the second half. In center, Maybin has really turned it on in the second half after a terrible start to the season. His contract isn’t looking nearly as bad as it did for the first few months of the season. Venable’s play in right has improved as well, with his walk numbers up significantly in the second half.

All in all, the Padres have taken a big step forward in the second half of the season. Their lineup will always have to deal with Petco, (unless they move the fences in), but as of right now, things are looking much brighter than they did at the start of the year. If they can lock up Chase Headley, the next few years could be relatively exciting for the Padres. Because you also have to remember nearly their entire starting rotation was injured this year, leaving them to run out Jason Marquis and Kip Wells. When those starters return, and more of their deep farm system makes it to the majors, the Padres could certainly have the potential to play for the wildcard in the National League. Now I really want to go to San Diego.