Get Off the Ledge: Why Your Team Might Not Stink
We are over a week into the season and there are some promising teams off to crummy starts, as well as some bad teams who have started off the way many expected they would. Today we will have a look at the six last place teams and assess whether there is legitimate cause for long term concern or some bright spots to which fans might cling. We will seek to identify the ominous signs and highlight any glimmers of hope for these six clubs.
For starters, let's compare win-loss records to Pythagorean records to try and identify major disparities. It's conceivable that teams are hitting, pitching and fielding well but not yet closing out wins.
W-L Pythag W-L Boston 2-6 3-5 Cleveland 1-7 2-6 Texas 3-5 4-4 Washington 0-7 2-5 Houston 1-6 1-6 San Francisco 2-5 2-5
Nope, it does not appear that any team has been particularly unlucky. According to runs scored and runs allowed, they are all pretty much in line with their records. The Rangers have been the best of this bunch, allowing just four more runs than they have scored. So let's run some more in-depth diagnostics to see if we can identify anything that might stand out.
RS Rank OPS Rank Boston 29 26 .708 22 Cleveland 38 13 .768 13 Texas 52 2 .857 3 Washington 34 21 .742 20 Houston 16 30 .662 29 San Francisco 27 29 .670 27
RA Rank OPSa Rank UZR Rank Boston 43 19 .838 23 11 Cleveland 64 30 .962 29 29 Texas 56 29 .864 25 9 Washington 54 28 .969 30 25 Houston 43 19 .900 27 22 San Francisco 41 16 .866 26 10
Ok, now we start to get into it. Last season, the San Diego Padres plated the fewest runs in Major League Baseball with 637. Currently Houston is on pace for 370 runs, while San Francisco and Boston are on pace for 625 and 588, respectively. Boston scored 845 last season. You get the point. There are some teams on this list who are absolutely going to improve offensively.
On the pitching side, did you know that Cleveland Indians starters are currently sporting a 10.91 ERA? Anthony Reyes leads their starters with a 6.00 mark. The very highest OPS allowed last season was .817 by the Texas Rangers. However awful you think Washington's run prevention is, they will improve off of their .969 OPS allowed mark. The same goes for every other team on that list.
Now let's look at some balls-in-play data.
Batting BABIP Rank LD% Rank Boston .261 26 19.4 11 Cleveland .306 13 21.3 5 Texas .291 19 18.8 15 Washington .349 1 22.9 3 Houston .257 29 17.3 21 San Francisco .318 9 19.5 10
Pitching BABIP Rank LD% Rank Boston .322 7 17.8 20 Cleveland .353 1 20.6 5 Texas .329 6 22.8 1(t) Washington .350 2 22.1 4 Houston .343 3 20.0 11 San Francisco .331 5 18.3 17
A couple things stand out to me here. First, on both the hitting and pitching side for the Red Sox, there is considerable dislocation between their balls in play average and their line drive percentage. If a team ranks 11th in line drive percentage, that same team should be reaching base at a pretty good clip when making contact. And yet, the Red Sox find themselves 26th in the league at this point on batting average on balls in play. Similarly, their pitchers are doing a good job preventing opposing hitters from making square contact but they don't have results to show for it. Their .322 balls in play average allowed is the seventh highest in baseball. As time goes on, this should work itself out. Boston fans should take heart in this. Applying the same principles, Cleveland's hitting and San Francisco's pitching also figure to improve.
The next thing that stands out to me is that Washington is hitting the cover off the ball without a win to show for it. Now, they also rank second in Major League Baseball in strikeouts but still. You would think the way they are hitting the ball might translate into more runs.
Finally, let's look at some situational numbers. The first number is OPS with runners in scoring position while the second shows what percentage of runners each team strands to end an inning. It's the "left on base" percentage. You can also see where each team ranks in MLB for the respective figures. I am posting these numbers because they can influence results but not necessarily reflect a team's true quality.
RISP OPS Rank LOB% Rank Boston .626 27 72.8 13 Cleveland .642 25 56.3 30 Texas .949 5 64.3 25 Washington .801 15 59.2 29 Houston .490 30 69.7 20 San Francisco .707 20 67.9 23
Take heart, Tribe fans. Your team will start to hit better in the clutch and a runner reaching first base will cease to equate to an automatic run. "How does a team score just 16 runs in a seven game stretch?" you ask. Well how about a .490 OPS with men in scoring position. Houston may not be a world class offensive club, but they'll come around.
These games count, so I do not want to downplay the impact of a tough start. Without a doubt, each of these teams has dug themselves a hole. But looking at the numbers alone, I think Boston and Cleveland fans should hold off on panicking just yet. Meanwhile, the Rangers have to be happy with the way they have hit the ball so far and it appears that given their strand rate, the run prevention figures to improve.
In the National League, all three last place teams will see their pitching improve, while Houston is going to get a big jump offensively when they start hitting in the clutch and Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee come around. For Nationals fans looking for hope, it may be a biased perspective but I would nonetheless point you to this piece by Manny Acta.
Next week I will take a look at the teams with the best records to see who has staying power and who might be in for a drop-off.
Thanks to Fangraphs for many of the more in-depth statistics.