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MARCH 11, 2004
Beware The Ides Of March Baseball Madness
By Steve Lombardi, NetShrine.com

As a follow up to the last SOTS feature, which touched upon the recent pitching dominance of the Oakland A’s, the question came to mind “Which team last season was helped the most by their pitching staff?”  (Hey, I have to ponder something to kill the three-something weeks of basically idle "baseball news" time until Opening Day, no?)

At first blush, a concept like Neutral Wins1 for a team, from a batting perspective, popped into my head.  Actually, it was less of a “pop” and more like a washing to the surface – similar to the answer coming into view in a Magic 8-Ball ® - which just made the theory all the more fun.

To this end, I wondered “What if one were to take Pythagorean Winning Percentage2 and plug in an average amount of runs allowed (to represent an “average pitching staff”) and then compare that result to the actual Pythagorean Winning Percentage results for a team?  The difference between the actual percentage and the adjusted percentage would serve as the measure/impact of the team’s pitching staff – by comparing the real results versus what an average pitching staff would have contributed.”

With the assistance of the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia and an Excel spreadsheet, working up the numbers for the 2003 season on this idea took about two minutes.  The results are as follows:

Batting Runs

Pitching Runs

PW% 

Actual W% 

RSAA

PR+RSAA

PN PW%

Difference 

Dodgers

574

556

0.516

0.525

137

693

0.407

0.109

Expos

711

716

0.496

0.512

175

891

0.389

0.107

Diamondbacks

717

685

0.523

0.519

152

837

0.423

0.100

Mariners

795

637

0.609

0.574

103

740

0.536

0.073

A's

768

643

0.588

0.593

96

739

0.519

0.069

Astros

805

677

0.586

0.537

96

773

0.520

0.065

Giants

755

638

0.583

0.621

82

720

0.524

0.060

Cubs

724

683

0.529

0.543

64

747

0.484

0.045

White Sox

791

715

0.550

0.531

49

764

0.517

0.033

Yankees

877

716

0.600

0.623

50

766

0.567

0.033

Red Sox

961

809

0.585

0.586

42

851

0.560

0.025

Twins

801

758

0.528

0.556

34

792

0.506

0.022

Royals

836

867

0.482

0.512

15

882

0.473

0.009

Blue Jays

894

826

0.539

0.531

13

839

0.532

0.008

Braves

907

740

0.600

0.623

8

748

0.595

0.005

Phillies

791

697

0.563

0.531

-1

696

0.564

-0.001

Indians

699

778

0.447

0.420

-3

775

0.449

-0.002

Marlins

751

692

0.541

0.562

-10

682

0.548

-0.007

Angels

736

743

0.495

0.475

-12

731

0.503

-0.008

Mets

642

754

0.420

0.410

-44

710

0.450

-0.030

Devil Rays

715

852

0.413

0.389

-63

789

0.451

-0.038

Rockies

853

892

0.478

0.457

-69

823

0.518

-0.040

Pirates

753

801

0.469

0.463

-66

735

0.512

-0.043

Orioles

743

820

0.451

0.438

-75

745

0.499

-0.048

Cardinals

876

796

0.548

0.525

-81

715

0.600

-0.052

Rangers

826

969

0.421

0.438

-108

861

0.479

-0.058

Brewers

714

873

0.401

0.420

-102

771

0.462

-0.061

Reds

694

886

0.380

0.426

-133

753

0.459

-0.079

Tigers

591

928

0.289

0.265

-166

762

0.376

-0.087

Padres

678

831

0.400

0.395

-156

675

0.502

-0.103

[Batting Runs = Runs scored by the team in 2003.  Pitching Runs = Runs allowed by the team in 2003.  PW% = Pythagorean Winning Percentage. Actual W% = A team’s actual winning percentage in 2003.  PN PW% = Pitching Neutral Pythagorean Winning Percentage.  Difference = PW% less PN PW%.]

For purposes of an “average pitching staff” (in terms of runs allowed) a team’s actual runs allowed was adjusted by their RSAA3 (courtesy of the SBE).  While this method does yield a small understatement of "average runs allowed" (as RSAA deals with earned runs only and not total runs) since this exercise is meant to be a "quick and dirty" calculation, this approach is sufficient.

It is clear that the Dodgers, Expos, and Diamondbacks, the top three teams on this list, and the only teams with a “Difference” equal or greater to .1, were the teams who benefited the most by having superior pitching.  This makes sense, as they each were in the “Top 6” for worst offense in 2003.  Their great pitching made up for their lousy batting.

The Tigers, Devil Rays, and Reds – three of the “Top 8” worst offensive teams in 2003 – were not helped at all by their pitchers.  This also makes sense, as their pitching staffs were below average in 2003.  Bad pitching is not going to make up for bad hitting.

The Braves, Red Sox, Cardinals and Yankees were among the best offensive teams in 2003.  Did their pitchers, according to this study, help or hurt their team?  It appears, on the above chart, that their solid pitching staffs helped the Yankees and Red Sox.  The Braves, whose pitching was close to average, are neutral.  The Cardinals were not helped at all by their bad pitching.

Pausing here, what do we have so far?

The obvious reaction to these findings is a sarcastic “Duh!”  Most baseball fans, with a modicum or hardball expertise, could have yielded this conclusion without the need for a statistical study.  There is still not much here, in terms of findings, to make your jaw drop.  Oh, well, even though you know the world is not flat, it never hurts to (every once in a while) see a picture of it being round for absolute confirmation.

The next (and hopefully more fruitful) thought to follow after this ho-hum conclusion was how would “pitching neutral” wins (to be derived via the aforementioned adjusted Pythagorean Winning Percentage) and “hitting neutral” wins compare for each team in 2003?  So, we head back to the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia and Excel for some more fun.  The results are as follows:

Team

PN W

HN W

NW Difference

RCAA4

RSAA

Expos

63

100

-37

-194

175

Dodgers

66

99

-33

-117

137

Diamondbacks

69

99

-30

-94

152

Cubs

78

90

-12

-49

64

A's

84

93

-9

19

96

Indians

73

81

-8

-58

-3

Mariners

87

94

-7

28

103

Twins

82

89

-7

6

34

Giants

84

91

-7

51

82

Mets

72

79

-7

-125

-44

Astros

84

90

-6

10

96

Royals

77

82

-5

-101

15

White Sox

84

89

-5

30

49

Tigers

61

66

-5

-163

-166

Devil Rays

73

78

-5

-64

-63

Blue Jays

86

84

2

55

13

Brewers

75

72

3

-34

-102

Yankees

92

89

3

142

50

Rangers

78

74

4

-32

-108

Marlins

89

85

4

59

-10

Red Sox

91

87

4

187

42

Reds

74

70

4

-60

-133

Angels

82

76

6

14

-12

Orioles

81

75

6

-30

-75

Phillies

91

83

8

91

-1

Rockies

84

75

9

-21

-69

Pirates

83

74

9

41

-66

Padres

81

69

12

-4

-156

Braves

96

83

13

208

8

Cardinals

97

74

23

156

-81

[PN W = Pitching Neutral Wins.  HN W = Hitting Neutral Wins.  NW Difference = PN W less HN W.]

This list is slightly more thought provoking than the first one.  Based on their actual hitting, five teams (Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Braves, and Cardinals) would have won 90+ games in 2003 with “just” average pitching.  Based on their actual pitching, eight teams (Expos, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Cubs, A’s, Mariners, Giants, and Astros) would have won 90+ games with “just” average hitting.

Further, based on their actual hitting, eight teams would have won 85+ games in 2003 with “just” average pitching.  But, based on their actual pitching, thirteen teams would have won 85+ games with “just” average hitting.

Granted, this is just one season and some rough math.  However, it does appear (by this last chart) that teams having above average pitching, in terms of positive RSAA, when given “average hitting" will have a  somewhat greater probability of winning more games than teams having above average hitting, in terms of positive RCAA, and given "average pitching.”   If you average the win totals for both these groups ("teams having above average real pitching and forced average hitting" and "team having above average real hitting and forced average pitching”) you will see that:

In 2003, three teams (as evidenced by their season end totals) patterned themselves closely to “having average hitting and above average pitching” – the Seattle Mariners, Oakland A’s and Houston Astros.  In terms of actual wins, this "approach" faired better for the M’s and the A’s than it did for the ‘Stros.  Perhaps Houston fell short playing with this strategy in a hitter’s park (whereas Oakland and Seattle are pitcher’s parks)?  Nevertheless, they all had winning records in the regular season. 

Ironically, in recent history, many teams “having average hitting and above average pitching” have not faired well in the postseason.  For example:  the 2000 Braves, 2001 Red Sox, 2001 Yankees, 2002 A’s, 2002 Diamondbacks – in addition to the 2003 A’s, Astros, and Twins – while “having average hitting and above average pitching” failed to win a World Series.

The answer there, perhaps, is that in the postseason, typically, the teams that "make it" all have good pitching – and when good pitching meets good pitching in the playoffs, they cancel each other out and then the team with better than average hitters beats the team with average hitters and the team with average hitters only will beat the team with below average hitters.

It is interesting that this second chart, compared to the first one, suggests that the Yankees, Red Sox, and Braves were not helped by their pitching, and that the Mets, Tigers, Devil Rays, and Indians were helped more by their respective pitching staffs than indicated by the first analysis using pitching neutral Pythagorean Winning Percentage, etc.  

Why did this happen?  In the case of the Yankees, Red Sox and Braves, it seems that when both your pitching and hitting is above average, but your hitting is much more above average than your above average pitching, then your pitching does not help you as much as it may help another team. In the case of the Mets, Tigers, Devil Rays, and Indians, it seems that when your hitting and pitching are both equally below average, or when your hitting and pitching are below average - but your hitting is much more below average than your below average pitching, then your bad pitching is not hurting you as much as it may hurt another team.

This is a lot, no?  Still hanging in there?  OK, we will make it simple with a summary.  At the end of the day, these are the claims being made here now:

  1. Teams having above average pitching and average hitting will win more than teams having above average hitting and average pitching.

  2. Teams having above average hitting and pitching, but where the hitting is far above average, do not need pitching as great as they have to win games.

  3. Teams having below average hitting and pitching, when the below average levels are equal or where the hitting is far below average, would be even worse off if their pitching was worse.

Hmmmm..... those last two points smell a tad like Duh!” conclusions.  Shoot, file those away with the pictures of the round earth.  For now, let the main point of all this fun be:   Teams having above average pitching and average hitting will win more than teams having above average hitting and average pitching (at least during the regular season).  Kudos to the A's, Twins, and Astros management teams for using this model in 2003.

But, again, this is all just based on 2003 results.  This, as well as the other conclusions, should be tested against a much larger sample of seasons.

I should probably stop here and attempt to exorcise the baseball madness that can creep into one's brain during the ides of Spring Training in March before it really gets ugly.  If I keep playing this game of baseball stats hopscotch extrapolation, before you know it, I may come up with something wild that claims only one team in baseball will win more than 90 games in 2004.  And, before anyone e-mails me on that, let me throw out the “just kidding” disclaimer now – unless, of course, it comes true.  

_______________

1 Neutral Wins is a projection for how many wins a pitcher would have if he were given average run support, considering the amount of his actual decisions.
2 Pythagorean Winning Percentage, developed by Bill James, is the predicted winning percentage based on runs and runs allowed. The formula is as follows:  Runs^2/(Runs^2+Runs Allowed^2).
3 RSAA is “Runs saved against average.”  It is the amount of runs that a pitching staff saved versus what an average pitching staff would have allowed.
4 RCAA is “Runs created above average.” It is the difference between a player's Runs Created total and the total for an average player who used the same amount of his team's outs.


Steve Lombardi is the Creator & Curator of NetShrine.com.  Scrawling On The Scorecard appears regularly during the baseball season and sporadically during the off-season.  Steve can be contacted at sots@netshrine.com

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