
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 threesomething weeks of basically idle "baseball news" time until Opening Day, no?)
At first blush, a concept like Neutral Wins^{1} 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 8Ball ^{ ®}  which just made the theory all the more fun.
To this end, I wondered “What if one were to take Pythagorean Winning Percentage^{2} 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 RSAA^{3 } (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 hohum 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 
RCAA^{4} 
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:
teams having above average pitching, in terms of positive RSAA, when given “average hitting" will win about 90.6 games (HN W), and
teams having above average hitting, in terms of positive RCAA, when given " average pitching” will win about 87.5 games (PN W).
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:
Teams having above average pitching and average hitting will win more than teams having above average hitting and average pitching.
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.
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 emails 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 offseason. Steve can be contacted at sots@netshrine.com
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