Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Digging Deeper

This time of year, you need to look beyond the core statistics to determine true performance. Last June, I tagged Jorge de la Rosa as a pitcher primed for a turnaround. At the time, he was 2-7 with a 5.81 ERA. He finished 16-9 with a 4.38 ERA. I also predicted two arbitration eligible starters would head in opposite directions.

This year, Randy Wells is a candidate for a huge turnaround. His mainstream stats don’t look good (3-5, 5.15 ERA). But a pitcher’s actual performance is better evaluated with advanced metrics, especially in timeframes of less than half a season.

Wells has struck out batters more often than he did last season, when he went 12-10 with a 3.05 ERA. He has also given up home runs and walks less often than in 2009. The problem has been his high batting average on balls in play. His .359 BABIP is 65 points higher than last season. While he has allowed more line drives, this also shows that he has experienced some bad luck and/or poor defense behind him. A low left on base percentage demonstrates that Wells’ hits allowed have been poorly timed. Neither trend should hold up for the entire season, so expect his ERA to improve.

The disconnect between core statistics and advanced metrics isn’t always this great, but it always exists to some extent. Knowing this can not only build value, but it helps predict future performance as well.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Stepping Up

Caron Butler's team only lasted one round in the NBA Playoffs, but he did his part at the offensive end. Butler increased his points per 48 minutes figure by 7.2 - from 20.8 in the regular season to 28.0 in the postseason - to top all NBA players (through June 7, minimum: 150 playoff minutes).

Paul Millsap came next at 6.6 more points per 48 minutes, followed by Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (+5.6), Jameer Nelson (+5.5), Russell Westbrook (+5.3), Deron Williams (+5.0), Jason Richardson (+4.5), Goran Dragic (+3.6), Derrick Rose (+3.3), and Dwyane Wade (+2.8).

Among players who have drawn the media spotlight this postseason, Kobe Bryant (+2.1) had the 12th-greatest increase and Rajon Rondo (1.4) placed 16th. Ray Allen has actually scored slightly less per 48 minutes (-0.3). LeBron James saw a drop of 3.4 points, but had still posted the playoffs' fourth-highest points per 48 minutes figure (33.4).

Surprisingly, neither NBA Finals participant had a player in the top 10. The Lakers had two more players - Derek Fisher and Pau Gasol - join Bryant in the top 20. Rondo was the sole member of the Celtics in the top 20.

One key point to make is that most players see their scoring rate dip in the playoffs, mainly because the pace slows. Among the 94 players to see at least 150 playoff minutes, only 32 increased their points per 48 figures.

After the NBA Finals, we will examine points per possession, which adjusts for differences in game pace. We will also analyze advanced metrics to demonstrate who stepped up their all-around game in the playoffs.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Cox and Torre Have Lived Parallel Lives

Along the lines of the Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy list of bizarre coincidences, Joe Torre and Bobby Cox have plenty of their own. This has nothing to do with sports analytics, but had to post it anyway:

Joe Torre has three letters in his first name and five in his second name.
Bobby Cox has five letters in his first name and three in his second name.

Torre played for the Braves and managed the Yankees.
Cox played for the Yankees and manages the Braves.

Torre originally signed with the Braves and manages the Dodgers.
Cox originally signed with the Dodgers and manages the Braves.

Both Cox and Torre played third base in the Major Leagues.

Both played for teams in New York City: Torre with the Mets, Cox with the Yankees.

Both managers had their first full season in 1978.
Torre finished last in the NL East.
Cox finished last in the NL West.

Both managers had their second full season in 1979.
Torre finished last in the NL East.
Cox finished last in the NL West.

Torre managed in New York (with the Mets), left to manage other clubs, and returned to New York (with the Yankees).
Cox managed in Atlanta, left to manage another club, and returned to Atlanta.

Torre replaced Cox as Braves manager before the 1982 season.

Both skippers left managing in the mid-1980s to pursue other opportunities: Torre as a broadcaster and Cox as a GM.

Torre had two managerial stints in New York. He struggled in the first one and became one of the all-time greatest managers in the second.
Cox had two managerial stints in Atlanta. He struggled in the first one and became one of the all-time greatest managers in the second.

Both managers have made 15 postseason appearances, more than any other manager in Major League history.

Both managers have had streaks of 14 consecutive playoff appearances, more than any other manager in Major League history.