Arms or Bats – Conclusion
Part 1 of this series showed us that adding one big bopper bat to the lineup isn’t really going to help us win as many games as folks tend to believe. In fact, we added Carl Crawford and Brian Giles (based on 2006 production numbers) and only gained one-half run per game total value to our 4.45 average runs per game value (2006 value as of 8/31/06). That’s a nice addition, to be sure, but not enough to offset the 5.15 runs we are currently allowing per game (2006 value as of 8/31/06).
Part 2 of this series showed that we needed to shave 120 runs off our runs allowed to drop the opposition from 5.15 runs allowed to 4.40 to be more competitive. To gain just 30 runs I showed you we needed to improve our pre all-star game walk rate of 3.79 BB/9 (about 613 per year) to 3.18 BB/9 average per year (using a .330 base run state). I also showed you that Duke, Maholm, and Snell have already accomplished that after the all-star game with their 3.07 BB/9 rate (as of 8/31/06) and we expected to see even more improvement from them in 2007, based on Tom Trippett’s research.
Part 2 also suggested that we would gain at least 30 runs by eliminating the garbage from the starting rotation by adding a free agent strike thrower and using Tom Gorzelanny. My suggestion all along has been to add 2 free agent strike throwers, if the right ones could be signed who miss enough bats. But one is imperative.
I have assumed the value of the walk rate reduction and the additions of Gorzelanny and a free agent starter will be worth at least 60 runs. I think that is fair since we have already bettered our BB/9 by 19% this year and we expect even more in 2007, and considering Santos, Perez, Chacon, and Wells won’t be in the rotation with their combined 6+ ERA and 4.66 BB/9 rate.
So 60 runs were shaved off my desired goal of 120 runs allowed we wanted to reduce overall based on Part 2. I suggested the other 60 could come from defense and that is included here in Part 3.
Over the last week or so I posted ball in play (BiP) charts for Duke, Maholm, and Snell that covers each of their last 11 starts since the all-star game. The charts were not only presented to give the readership some advance knowledge of what I will be talking about in this series, but also to demonstrate the relationships between our battery and our fielders.
As you noticed in the chart sets, I broke down the field into 3 Zones, LF, CF, and RF, and I also broke down the field into 3 Areas, A, B, and C. I did this to make it easier for you to see where balls in play and total bases were coming from.
For instance, a ball in play that scooted through Freddy at 3B and Jack at SS would become a G56 (ground ball between position 5 and 6) and ultimately fielded by Bay in LF. For recording purposes, I would have charted that as an Area B ball in play in Zone LF.
I compiled the MLB median net total base (TB) obtained from every ball in play fielded by an outfielder between 2002 – 2005 using Retrosheet’s data sets to use as a baseline for my work here. The median MLB net TB (not including home run values) was .59 net TB per BiP fielded by an outfielder. For the 33 games I charted, the Pirates net TB was .68 (226 BiP and 154 net TB).
If we assume Duke, Maholm, and Snell are to start 30 games each in 2007 and, all things being equal to their last 33 game data, that would equate to 616 BiP to the outfield (Area C only). Here is how I figured that..
– 226 actual BiP / 33 games charted = 6.85 Area A BiP per game average
– 6.85 * 90 starts = 616 BiP
The difference between the MLB median of .59 net TB per BiP and the Pirates .69 net TB per BiP is 55.5 net TB. But just because they reached base doesn’t mean they score, of course, so I had to dig further and find out the expected vs. the Pirates actual runs allowed from the base obtained to the end of the inning.
The MLB median was .572 and the Pirates median was .719. If we use the MLB median times the 55.5 net TB from above, we expect to see 32 runs in a season saved.
However, the point here is that any ball in play hit to the outfield (to Area A) is costing us at least 1/2 run per BiP. When I broke down the values by pitcher I found our right fielders are in negative numbers in every ball in play state except when Snell pitches to a left hand batter, of all things. More specifically, our right fielders are 20% higher than the MLB median allowing net total bases on all balls in play off Duke and Maholm.
Considering the right fielder handles 33% of all BiP from these two pitchers, that is a huge problem Littlefield has to address. I can’t specifically say it is a defender problem or a battery problem, but there is a problem. In any case, Littlefield has a chance to save at least 30 runs addressing this one problem area.
For the record, Bay was a tad better than average as were our center fielders.
Now we need 30 more runs. If you read my blog you know advancing base runners has been a pet peeve of mine with Jason Bay. Far too many runners take extra bases on him. Duffy too. In fact, all three outfield positions have a 12% higher rate of advancing runners than the MLB median, but Bay is highest at 7%.
It was very hard to determine the run value of the advancing runner so instead of sifting through tons of stats, I went the old fashioned way – watching film – and simply counted how many runs scored from a runner who advanced I felt should have had at least a play made on him – and none was made – and errors we made allowing runners to advance an extra base. I came up with a conservative run value of 9 runs over the 33 games. If we just take half that value – 4 – I think we will be more than accurate. Four runs over 33 games equates to .12 runs per game and over 162 games that is 20 runs saved.
That leaves 10 more runs and you know where I am going to get them if you read my blog.. Ronny Paulino. Simply put, Ronny has cost us a ton more than 10 runs per year so I’ll just stop right there.
Part 3 Conclusion
I have identified three areas of major concern on defense:
- Right Field. The way to solve this, imo, is to get a free agent outfielder with some speed and a cannon arm and hope he bats .265/.320/.475 and we’d be set. The key is defense.. not offense, in RF. No.. Burnitz is not enough of a defensive player. Nor would a Bautista or Nady platoon with Burnitz work. In fact, forget Nady and Bautista in RF all together because of their poor glove work. Maybe Gerut?
Another problem here could be our battery not pitching to their defense in RF. Possibly poor advance scouting? We also have had a lot of rookies playing RF and that could be compounding the RF problem too.
- Advancing base runners. We are getting killed when Jack Wilson is not on the field. To trade Jack would be a huge disaster because his arm cuts down more batters running and advancing runners on relay throws than perhaps any SS in MLB. I’m here to tell you that if Jack is traded, our runs allowed will skyrocket with Freddy at SS. He simply doesn’t have the arm for ****.. especially with Bay in LF.
One of the things I’ve noticed is that Tracy is starting to play his OF in a bit more than he had earlier in the year. It’s a good choice in my opinion because the number of hits that go for an extra base will be nothing compared to the extra outs he might get and the ability of our outfielders to gun some advancing runners out.
- Ronny Paulino. Ronny just has to learn the importance of blocking a baseball with men on base. He has to use that big body of his to at least get the chest protector on the ball to deaden it. Paulino’s inability to side-block has rung up a number of easy runs scored from 3B wild pitches and passed balls – many of which should have been contained.
This entire series was designed to show how we could realistically make up 120 runs to become more competitive on the field in runs scored vs. runs allowed. As an ex-catcher I am a big fan of starting with pitching first.. if we can’t put up league average numbers across the board with the arms we have we are in trouble because we will never be able to beat anyone by mashing.
120 runs shaved from 2006 runs allowed is realistic.. it’s obtainable in 2007.. in fact, we are already doing it. Plus, our battery will be more experienced as a whole, our defense could be better depending on releases, acquisitions, and trades, and our offense can’t get much more putrid than it has been in 2006 scoring runs.
Additional keys will be:
– Colborn getting the southpaw’s sinkers working earlier in the year;
– A better platoon advantage in the dugout;
– Tracy stop ordering intentional walks;
– More ISO power in the lineup or more speed players that get on base;
– Fewer Pirate batters striking out — more balls put in play;
– Fewer walks issued no matter what – throw it underhand if necessary;
And the #1 key:
– Player mindset – they have to believe they can do it.