Monday, August 31, 2015

Trailing 30 - August 31

Here is an explanation of this weekly feature, listing the best and worst of past 30 days, made possible by FanGraphs' Leaders application. Comment for the week: I'm a day late posting this, but the timing makes it easier to predict the August players of the month. American League: Edwin Encarnacion probably deserves it, but I expect his teammate Josh Donaldson to be Player of the Month, with another teammate, David Price, winning Pitcher of the Month. National League: Nobody really stands out offensively. Andrew McCutchen could be Player of the Month. The Cubs' Jake Arrieta seems an easy choice for Pitcher of the Month.

   American League              National League
   Team W-L                     Team W-L      
1. Toronto         21- 5     1. Chicago         19- 8
2. Kansas City     19- 9        New York        19- 8    
3. Texas           18- 9        Pittsburgh      19- 8         
4. Cleveland       15-12     4. St. Louis       18- 9   
5. Boston          14-12     5. Los Angeles     14-12        

   Worst Team W-L               Worst Team W-L
1. Los Angeles     10-18     1. Cincinnati       7-21      
2. Detroit         10-17     2. Atlanta          8-19       
3. Baltimore       11-17     3. Colorado         9-18      
4. Chicago         12-16     4. Miami           10-18
5. Oakland         12-15     5. Milwaukee       11-15

   Batting Average              Batting Average     
1. Brantley, Cle    .424     1. Pollock, Ari     .373  
2. Encarnacion, Tor .402     2. Peralta, Ari     .370      
3. Lindor, Cle      .385     3. McCutchen, Pit   .348           
4. Altuve, Hou      .365     4. Herrera, Phi     .346          
5. Kinsler, Det     .362     5. Piscotti, SL     .340       

   Lowest Batting Average       Lowest Batting Average  
1. Rodriguez, NY    .148     1. Bruce, Cin       .157         
2. Lowrie, Hou      .165     2. Wong, SL         .189       
3. Urshela, Cle     .179     3. Uribe, NY        .192
4. McCann, Det      .195     4. Werth, Was       .208           
5. Plouffe, Min     .196     5. Byrd, Cin-SF     .216      

   On Base Percentage           On Base Percentage  
1. Brantley, Cle    .481     1. Votto, Cin       .513           
2. Encarnacion, Tor .458     2. McCutchen, Pit   .470         
3. Goins, Tor       .439     3. Harper, Was      .454         
4. Zobrist, KC      .433     4. Bryant, Chi      .411          
5. Beltran, NY      .433     5. Pollock, Ari     .409      
   Slugging Percentage          Slugging Percentage   
1. Encarnacion, Tor .927     1. Votto, Cin       .619        
2. Donaldson, Tor   .723     2. Bryant, Chi      .619     
3. Cruz, Sea        .714     3. McCutchen, Pit   .609       
4. Bradley, Bos     .711     4. Piscotti, SL     .600       
5. Ortiz, Bos       .693     5. Gonzalez, Col    .596        
   Home Runs                    Home Runs
1. Cruz, Sea          12     1. Gonzalez, Col      10
2. Donaldson, Tor     11        Davis, Mil         10        
   Encarnacion, Tor   11     3. Schwarber, Chi      9
4. Bautista, Tor      10     4. Cespedes, NY        8
   Davis, Bal         10     5. 5 with              7

   Runs                         Runs    
1. Donaldson, Tor     29     1. Schwarber, Chi     25        
2. Bautista, Tor      26     2. Pollock, Ari       23     
3. Cruz, Sea          24     3. Granderson, NY     22
4. Encarnacion, Tor   23        Harper, Was        22
   Hosmer, KC         23        Marte, Pit         22

   RBI                          RBI      
1. Encarnacion, Tor   35     1. Davis, Mil         24        
2. Donaldson, Tor     33        Kemp, SD           24      
3. Sano, Min          26        Zimmerman, Was     24       
4. Bradley, Bos       23     4. Cespedes, NY       23
5. 3 with             22        Schwarber, Chi     23
   Stolen Bases                 Stolen Bases             
1. Altuve, Hou         7     1. Gordon, Mia        11
   Cain, KC            7     2. Pollock, Ari       10     
3. 4 with              6     3. Blackmon, Col       8   
                             4. Desmond, Was        6
                                LeMahhieu, Col      6
   Saves                        Saves
1. Osuna, Tor         10     1. Rosenthal, SL      10
   Tolleson, Tex      10        Melancon, Pit      10
3. Boxberger, TB       7     3. Giles, Phi          9
   Holland, KC         7        Jansen, LA          9
5. 2 with              6        Rondon, Chi         9

   ERA                          ERA
1. Feldman, Hou     1.33     1. Harvey, NY       0.33
2. Carrasco, Cle    1.47     2. Arrieta, Chi     0.43
3. Verlander, Det   1.50     3. Wacha, SL        1.13
4. McHugh, Hou      1.89     4. Kershaw, LA      1.40
5. Gallardo, Tex    1.98     5. Bumgarner, SF    1.43

   Worst ERA                    Worst ERA
1. Samardzija, Chi  8.82     1. Harang, Phi      8.04
2. Simon, Det       7.20     2. Wisler, Atl      7.85
3. Santana, Min     6.11     3. Garza, Mil       6.75
4. Gonzalez, Bal    6.82     4. Koehler, Mia     6.68
5. Hernandez, Sea   6.60     5. Scherzer, Was    6.43

   WHIP                         WHIP
1. Carrasco, Cle    0.68     1. Harvey, NY       0.63
2. Kluber, Cle      0.81     2. Arrieta, Chi     0.69
3. Verlander, Det   0.83     3. Bumgarner, SF    0.72
4. Sale, Chi        0.89     4. Iglesias, Cin    0.76
5. Iwakuma, Sea     0.90     5. Kershaw, LA      0.78

   Strikeouts                   Strikeouts
1. Sale, Chi          52     1. Bumgarner, SF      53     
2. Kluber, Cle        47     2. Kershaw, LA        51
3. Archer, TB         44     3. Iglesias, Cin      45
4. Price, Tor         41     4. Arrieta, Chi       43
5. Richards, LA       39        deGrom, NY         33

Friday, August 28, 2015

Next Up: The Colorado Rockies

On Monday, I wrote, previewing the Pirates' next ten games:
With the Pirates playing ten games against three of the worst teams in the league at the same time the Cardinals play ten against teams with winning records (the Diamondbacks, Giants, and Nationals), there's an opportunity for the Pirates to pick up ground heading into a Labor Day weekend matchup in St. Louis.
Well, that plan's been only half successful. The Pirates did indeed take three of four from the Miami Marlins, but the seemingly unstoppable Cardinals went to Phoenix and took four straight from a Diamondbacks team that had been on an 18-9 run. The Pirates now host the Rockies, with the third worst record in baseball, for three games while the Cardinals face the Giants, who trail the Dodgers by 2.5 in the West and the Cubs by 5.5 for the second wild card.

How Are They Doing Lately? Over the last 30 days, the Rockies are 8-19, tying them with the Braves for the worst record in the National League. Despite playing in the best hitters' park in the majors, they've scored only 4.1 runs per game over the last 30 days, the sixth lowest total in the league, while giving up 6.0 per game, easily the most. They're 9-19 since trading shortstop/franchise icon Troy Tulowitzki to the Blue Jays on July 28.

What's Going Right? Rockies pitchers are never as bad as their raw numbers, as they have the handicap of playing half their games in the most hitter-friendly ballpark in the majors. Adjusted for their home park, their starters' ERA is fifth worst in the league over the past 30 days, and the relievers' ERA is second worse. That's not good, of course, but it's better than their unadjusted ERA.

What's Going Wrong? One Rockies batters are in the middle of the National League pack in slugging percentage over the past 30 days, at .417, but they've been hurt by an inability to get on base. The team's .295 on base percentage is the worst in the league over the past 30 days, the only team below .300. They've walked the least frequently and struck out the second most frequently in the league, swinging at 34% of pitches outside the strike zone, the second most in the league. The starting pitchers' ERA over the past 30 days is 5.89. Only the Phillies have been worse. Sort of the mirror image of the hitters, Rockies starters have struck out batters at the third-lowest rate and walked them at the sixth-highest rate. The relievers have been worse, with a league-worst 6.24 ERA, the lowest strikeout rate in the league, and by far and away the highest walk rate. Rockies relievers have issued free passes to 15% of the batters they've faced over the last 30 days. The next worst  team, the Marlins, are below 10%. The Rockies bullpen has four saves and six blown saves in the past 30 days. 

Who's Hot? Right fielder Carlos Gonzalez has put on a slugging show of late, leading the Rockies with ten homers, 20 RBI, 18 runs scored, a .337 on base percentage, and a .630 slugging percentage over the past 30 days. The Pirates will face the Rockies' most dependable starter of late, Jorge de la Rosa, on Sunday. Over his past five starts, he has a 3.41 ERA. Highly-touted rookie Jonathan Gray has his fifth start tonight. In his first three starts--all no-decisions--he compiled a 2.40 ERA with 14 strikeouts in 15 innings, but he was lit up for seven runs in an inning and two thirds against the Mets last Friday.

Who's Not? The Rockies got shortstop Jose Reyes in the trade for Tulo, and he's struggled with a .258 batting average and .284 on base percentage since coming over. He's also been caught stealing in half of his eight attempts. The team's most successful base stealer is center fielder Charlie Blackmon, with eight steals over the past 30 days, though he's been successful in 62% of his attempts, negating his swipes. Slick-fielding third baseman Nolan Arenado, first baseman Ben Paulsen, and catcher Nick Hundley join Reyes among regulars with on base percentages below .300 over the past 30 days. Over the past 30 days, the team's six most frequently used relievers have combined for a 7.30 ERA and have walked 16% of the batters they've faced; the league average is a 3.91 ERA and an 8% walk rate.

What's the Outlook? Playing the Rockies at altitude in Coors Field is said to mess up visiting hitters' and pitchers' timing. Hosting Colorado at PNC Park entails no such risk. (The Pirates visit Denver in September.) Picking up ground on the division-leading Cardinals, whom the Pirates trail by 4.5 games, is a tall order, though, as long as the Redbirds keeping winning every damn game they play.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Overworked Pen, Revisited

At the beginning of July, I wrote that the Pirates have gone to their bullpen a lot, and that this raised concerns about the relievers' durability over a 162-game season. The team's top four relievers at the time--Arquimedes CamineroJared HughesMark Melancon, and Tony Watson--had appeared in more games, and pitched more innings, than any top four in the National League. However, I noted that the Pirates relievers were unusually efficient, with all throwing a below-average number of pitches per inning. As a result, they hadn't thrown as many pitches as many of their peers, reducing the concern about wear and tear.

I decided to revisit this analysis as we enter the last month-plus of the season. I expanded my net, looking at each team in the majors. For each club, I identified their top three relievers, not in terms of games pitched, but in how they're used. FanGraphs' RotoGraphs column each week has a "Bullpen Report" that lists the top three relievers for each team. For the Pirates, for example, the closer is Melancon and the top two setup men are Joaquim Soria and Watson. For each team, I calculated, for the top three relievers:
  • The number of games in which they've appeared
  • The number of batters they've faced (a superior measure to innings pitched, which measures only outs)
  • The number of pitches they've thrown
I included only relief appearances for pitchers who've moved from the starting rotation to the bullpen. For pitchers who've been traded, like Soria, I used their full-year statistics. This analysis makes bullpens that've had upheaval through injury (e.g., the Braves, who lost closer Jason Grilli for the season in mid-July to a ruptured Achilles) or roster changes (e.g., the Mariners, who released closer Fernando Rodney over the weekend) seem well-rested, since more lightly-used relievers may have moved into more prominent roles. I don't worry about that; somebody's who's thrown only 30 innings is, in fact, likely pretty well-rested.

Here are the 12 bullpens whose top three relievers have appeared in the most games:
  1. Pirates (Melancon, Soria, Watson) 176
  2. Cubs (Rondon, Strop, Hunter) 170
  3. Rangers (Tolleson, Diekman, Dyson) 168
  4. Phillies (Giles, Garcia, Gomez) 164
  5. Cardinals (Rosenthal, Siegrist, Cishek) 162
  6. Angels (Street, Smith, Salas) 161
  7. Marlins (Ramos, Dunn, Morris) 161
  8. Mets (Familia, Clippard, Torres) 161
  9. Yankees (Miller, Betances, Wilson) 160
  10. Brewers (Rodriguez, Smith, Jeffress) 159
  11. Indians (Allen, Shaw, McAllister) 156
  12. Royals (Holland, Davis, Herrera) 153
Other contenders: Astros (Gregerson, Neshek, Qualls) T13th, Orioles (Britton, O'Day, Brach) 17th, Giants (Casilla, Romo, Strickland) 18th, Dodgers (Jansen, Johnson, Baez) 21st, Nationals (Papelbon, Storen, Janssen) T22nd, Twins T24th, Blue Jays (Osuna, Sanchez, Cecil) 27th.

Granted, it's a strain on a pitcher to appear in a game, as it entails both warmup pitches and live pitches. But there's more strain in coming into a game with one out and a runner on first and allowing two more batters to reach before retiring the next two compared to getting the first batter faced to ground into an inning-ending double play. So the number of batters a reliever faces is probably a better indicator of usage than the number of games in which he appears. The top three relievers for these teams have faced the most batters:
  1. Phillies 740
  2. Rangers 698
  3. Pirates 671
  4. Cubs 670
  5. Mets 667
  6. Cardinals 655
  7. Red Sox (Tazawa, Machi, Ognado) 642
  8. Orioles 640
  9. Angels 635
  10. Indians 632
  11. Reds (Chapman, Hoover, Mattheus) 625
  12. Yankees 621
Other contenders: Astros 21st, Dodgers 22nd, Nationals 24th, Giants 25th, Twins 26th, Blue Jays 28th.

Finally, as I pointed out in July, efficiency can reduce strain on relievers' arms. So far this year, relief pitchers have averaged 3.9 pitches per batter faced. That figure ranges between 3.7 for the Giants, Twins and Pirates to over 4.0 for the Rangers, Rays, and Yankees. Spread over a few hundred batters faced, those extra pitches can wear a pitcher down. These teams' top three relievers have thrown the most pitches this year:
  1. Phillies 2,848
  2. Rangers 2,694
  3. Cardinals 2,669
  4. Pirates 2,623
  5. Mets 2,618
  6. Yankees 2,556
  7. Indians 2,545
  8. Cubs 2,535
  9. Reds 2,529
  10. Orioles 2,523
  11. Red Sox 2,413
  12. Angels 2,412
Other contenders: Royals 16th, Dodgers 22nd, Astros 23rd, Giants 24th, Twins 25th, Nationals 26th, Blue Jays 28th.

So what are the takeaways here?
  • The Pirates have used their relievers a lot. However, the figures shown above are skewed by the addition of Joakim Soria. If I substitute Jared Hughes (the Pirates' No. 3 reliever before they traded for Soria on July 30) for Soria, the Pirates are still No. 1 in games pitched and rise to No. 2 in batters faced, but they fall all the way down to tenth in pitches thrown, behind both the Cardinals and the Cubs. They remain one of the most efficient bullpens, in terms of pitches per batter, in baseball. 
  • To expand on that, the only Pirates relievers who have averaged more than the major league average of 3.9 pitches per batter are Antonio Bastardo (4.4) and Soria (4.6 with the Pirates, 4.2 with the Tigers). That being said, of the 100 relievers who have thrown the most pitches this year, only three teams have six on their current roster: the Pirates, Cardinals, and Rangers.
  • The teams toward the bottom of the lists, notably the Blue Jays, Giants, Nationals, and Astros, in my opinion, seem to have particularly well-rested bullpens heading into September.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Next Up: The Miami Marlins

Since the beginning of July, the Pirates have played 30 games against teams that, at the time of the game, had a winning record, and only 16 games against teams below .500. It hasn't hurt them, as they've played better against the winning teams (22-8) than the losing teams (9-7). Tonight start a streak of ten straight games against teams with records below .500--three of the five worst teams in the National League, in fact--with four games in Miami against the Marlins.

How Are They Doing Lately? This is probably the most salient fact about the Marlins: Their two most recognizable stars are right fielder Giancarlo Stanton and starting pitcher Jose Fernandez. Due to injuries (a broken bone in Stanton's hand, recovery from Tommy John surgery and a strained muscle for Fernandez), the two have not been active at the same time all season. As a result, the Marlins, picked by some (not I) to possibly contend this year, are tied with the Phillies for the worst record in the National League East, just percentage points ahead of the Rockies (whom the Pirates play next) for the worst record in baseball. Over the last 30 days, their 9-18 record is the fourth worst in the National League. They've scored 4.0 runs per game, the fifth fewest, while allowing 5.1, the third most. The Pirates, by contrast, arrive in Miami with the second-best record in the National League: 18-8, tied with the Mets.

What's Going Right? Marlins starting pitchers have a pretty terrible record over the past 30 days, with a 4-13 won-lost record and a 5.26 ERA, but one could argue that they've been unlucky: a .326 batting average on balls in play (the National League average is .308) and only 65% of baserunners left stranded (average 72%), both likely markers of luck as much as skill. With more normal performance, though, the starters would be average, not good. On offense, they've been the toughest team in the National League to strike out over the past 30 days, largely because they've swung at pitches outside the strike zone less frequently than any other team.

What's Going Wrong? One of the reasons the starting pitchers have allowed 35% of baserunners to score compared to the league average of 28% is the bullpen. The relievers' 4.48 ERA is the fourth worst in the league over the past 30 days. They've allowed the second highest walk rate in the league and allowed an above-average number of homers. At the plate, the Marlins' .249 batting average over the last 30 days is the fifth lowest in the league, their .311 on base percentage sixth lowest, and their .360 slugging percentage the worst. Their team speed has enabled them to leg out 13 triples over the last 30 days, the most in the league, but they are last in doubles with 29 (the only team with fewer than 35) and homers with 15 (four fewer than the next-worst team). 

Who's Hot? Left fielder Derek Dietrich leads the team in home runs (five), runs (17), RBI (14), walks (12), on base percentage (.376), and slugging percentage (.506) over the past 30 days. Second baseman Dee Gordon's hit .323 with a .368 on base percentage and eight stolen bases. Cole Gillespie has filled in at all three outfield positions, batting .328 with a .388 on base percentage. Over the last 30 days, rookie left-handed starter Justin Nicolino (he'll start Thursday night's game, opposing Gerrit Cole) has a 3.60 ERA but only seven strikeouts over 20 innings. Tomorrow night's starter, lefty Brad Hand, has a 3.13 ERA. The only Marlins starters with lower ERAs over the last 30 days are Fernandez, who's hurt, and Dan Haren, who's been traded. Setup man Bryan Morris has six holds and a 2.53 ERA over the past 30 days, though he's walked as many batters as he's struck out (five each in 10.2 innnings).

Who's Not? Between injuries and trades, the Marlins have had to mix-and-match with the starting rotation, and ten different starters have gotten the ball over the past 30 days. Excluding Nicolino, Hand, Fernandez, Haren, and another traded veteran, Mat Latos, the remaining Marlins starters have a combined 7.66 ERA over 15 starts. Closer A.J. Ramos had given up four homers, seven walks, and 11 hits over his last 11 innings, good for an 8.18 ERA. Rookie first baseman Justin Bour has cooled off, with a .215/.295/.316 slash line over the past 30 days, and third baseman Casey McGehee has been worse at .156/.240/.200. Catcher J.T. Realmuto's hit .205 with a .266 on base percentage during the span. 

What's the Outlook? The Marlins are not a good ball club, but the Pirates haven't always done well against weaker competition (4-9 against Cincinnati, 6-6 against Milwaukee). However, they did sweep three from Miami in May, when they had Stanton in the lineup. With the Pirates playing ten games against three of the worst teams in the league at the same time the Cardinals play ten against teams with winning records (the Diamondbacks, Giants, and Nationals), there's an opportunity for the Pirates to pick up ground heading into a Labor Day weekend matchup in St. Louis.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Trailing 30 - August 23

Here is an explanation of this weekly feature, listing the best and worst of past 30 days, made possible by FanGraphs' Leaders application. Comment for the week: Tampa Bay shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera is a career .267 hitter. He was batting .223 at the All-Star break. Since returning from a hamstring strain on July 28, he's been one of the hottest hitters in the American League. Go figure.

   American League              National League
   Team W-L                     Team W-L      
1. Toronto         19- 7     1. Chicago         19- 8
2. Texas           18-10     2. Pittsburgh      18- 8    
3. Kansas City     17-11     3. New York        17- 9         
4. Baltimore       16-12     4. San Diego       17-10   
5. Chicago, NY     15-13     5. Arizona         17-11        

   Worst Team W-L               Worst Team W-L
1. Los Angeles      9-19     1. Atlanta          8-20      
2. Oakland          9-18     2. Cincinnati       9-19       
3. Minnesota       11-17        Colorado         9-19      
4. Cleveland       12-16     4. Miami            9-18
5. Det, Sea        12-15     5. Washington      10-18

   Batting Average              Batting Average     
1. Cabrera, TB      .412     1. Pollock, Ari     .382  
2. Cruz, Sea        .387     2. Peralta, Ari     .365      
3. Ortiz, Bos       .379     3. Votto, Cin       .356           
4. Brantley, Cle    .375     4. Cervelli, Pit    .350          
5. Kinsler, Det     .372     5. Pierzynski, Atl  .341       

   Lowest Batting Average       Lowest Batting Average  
1. Hunter, Min      .163     1. Pederson, LA     .143         
2. Moustakas, KC    .172     2. Uribe, NY        .187       
3. Gose, Det        .176     3. Bruce, Cin       .189
4. Hardy, Bal       .190     4. Werth, Was       .190           
5. Pillar, Tor      .191     5. Segura, Mil      .204      

   On Base Percentage           On Base Percentage  
1. Ortiz, Bos       .466     1. Votto, Cin       .537           
2. Encarnacion, Tor .455     2. Fowler, Chi      .444         
3. Cruz, Sea        .454     3. Pollock, Ari     .439         
4. Cabrera, TB      .446     4. Harper, Was      .432          
5. Zobrist, Oak-KC  .442     5. McCutchen, Pit   .416      
   Slugging Percentage          Slugging Percentage   
1. Cruz, Sea        .821     1. Gonzalez, Col    .796        
2. Donaldson, Tor   .765     2. Duda, NY         .746     
3. Davis, Bal       .758     3. Votto, Cin       .690       
4. Ortiz, Bos       .747     4. Rizzo, Chi       .642       
5. Cabrera, TB      .659     5. Carpenter, SL    .606        
   Home Runs                    Home Runs
1. Cruz, Sea          13     1. Gonzalez, Col      15
   Davis, Bal         13     2. Duda, NY            9        
3. Donaldson, Tor     11        Rizzo, Chi          9
4. Ortiz, Bos          9     4. 4 with              8
5. 4 with              8     

   Runs                         Runs    
1. Davis, Bal         25     1. Gonzalez, Col      27        
   Donaldson, Tor     25     2. Pollock, Ari       26     
3. Hosmer, KC         24     3. Fowler, Chi        24
4. Cruz, Sea          22        Schwarber, Chi     24
   Kinsler, Det       22     5. 2 with             23

   RBI                          RBI      
1. Donaldson, Tor     35     1. Gonzalez, Col      31        
2. Davis, Bal         34     2. Rizzo, Chi         25      
3. Ortiz, Bos         28     3. Granderson, NY     24       
4. Abreu, Chi         26     4. 3 with             22
5. 2 with             23        
   Stolen Bases                 Stolen Bases             
1. Dyson, KC           7     1. Pollock, Ari       13
   Eaton, KC           7     2. Blackmon, Col       9     
3. Bourn, Cle          6        Hamilton, Cin       9   
   Cain, KC            6     4. Blanco, SF          8
5. 7 with              5        Gordon, Mia         8
   Saves                        Saves
1. Osuna, Tor         10     1. Rondon, Chi        11
2. Tolleson, Tex       9     2. Giles, Phi          9
3. Holland, KC         7        Kimbrel, SD         9
4. Boxberger, TB       6        Rodriguez, Mil      9
5. 5 with              5     5. 3 with              8

   ERA                          ERA
1. Gray, Oak        1.40     1. Harvey, NY       1.01
2. Verlander, Det   1.67     2. deGrom, NY       1.30
3. Salazar, Cle     2.04     3. Kershaw, LA      1.55
4. Bassitt, Oak     2.18     4. Arrieta, Chi     1.60
5. Feldman, Hou     2.25     5. Wacha, SL        1.64

   Worst ERA                    Worst ERA
1. Samardzija, Chi  8.01     1. Perez, Atl       7.98
2. Hernandez, Sea   7.07     2. Koehler, Mia     7.48
3. Gibson, Min      6.95     3. Rusin, Col       7.03
4. Guthrie, KC      6.67     4. Harang, Phi      7.00
5. Gonzalez, Bal    6.27     5. Locke, Pit       6.39

   WHIP                         WHIP
1. Carrasco, Cle    0.76     1. Harvey, NY       0.73
2. Iwakuma, Sea     0.80     2. Iglesias, Cin    0.76
3. Gray, Oak        0.85     3. Kershaw, LA      0.83
4. Kluber, Cle      0.85     4. deGrom, NY       0.84
5. Verlander, Det   0.88     5. Bumgarner, SF    0.85

   Strikeouts                   Strikeouts
1. Sale, Chi          59     1. Bumgarner, SF      56     
2. Archer, TB         52     2. Scherzer, Was      43
3. Carrasco, Cle      45     3. Kennedy, SD        41
4. Kluber, Cle        43     4. Cole, Pit          40
5. 2 with             40     5. Jungmann, Mil      39

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Next Up: The San Francisco Giants

The Pirates swept three games against the Giants in June. They'll try to keep beating up on the National League West (16-3 so far this season) with four against the Giants starting tonight in PNC Park.

How Are They Doing Lately? The Giants are 16-11 over the past 30 days, tying with the Mets for the fourth best record in the National League. (The Pirates are third at 17-9. Exasperatingly, the Cardinals are first and the Cubs second.) The Giants have scored 4.70 runs per game, fifth most in the league, and allowed 3.30, tied with the Mets for the second fewest. Their run differential is second to the Mets', and is suggestive of a team with a better record than the 16-11. The Giants start play today two games behind the Dodgers in the West and three behind the Cubs for the second wild card.

What's Going Right? The Giants' starting pitching, a problem much of the season, has been better of late, and the club's 3.49 starters ERA is third best in the league over the past 30 days. They've allowed the fourth fewest home runs in the league over the period despite getting fewer ground balls than any other team. The bullpen's 2.51 ERA is third best in the league over the past 30 days, and they've been the second-stingiest relief corps at allowing walks, but the .237 batting average the relievers have allowed on balls in play is probably not sustainable. On offense, the Giants are fourth in batting (.265), fifth in on base percentage (.323), and fifth in slugging (.429) over the past 30 days. They've been the third-hardest team to fan and have an excellent 21-4 record on steal attempts.

What's Going Wrong? The National League Central, that's what. The Giants are 9-11 against the Pirates' division this year. Within the last 30 days, they've taken two of three from Milwaukee but lost four straight to the Cubs and two of three to the Cardinals.

Who's Hot? The Giants have gotten power from shortstop Brandon Crawford (seven homers, 20 RBI, .313/.346/.625 slash line) and first baseman Brandon Belt (eight homers, 22 RBI, .273/.360/.545); high averages from catcher Buster Posey (.340/.373/.468) and rookie third baseman Matt Duffy (.321/.347/.473), and speed from outfielder Gregor Blanco (7 stolen bases, 18 runs) over the past 30 days. World Series hero Madison Bumgarner has a 2.06 ERA and a 4-1 record over the past 30 days, with 50 strikeouts and only three walks over 39.1 innings pitched. He'll start Friday. Ryan Vogelsong, who'd been demoted to the bullpen as he struggled earlier this season, has a 2.40 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 15 innings over his past three starts, and could start Sunday. (The Giants haven't named their Sunday starter yet.) Setup man Sergio Romo has been dominant over the last 30 days, with a save and six holds. He's allowed five hits, one walk, no runs, and has struck out 17.

Who's Not? The Giants' entire outfield--left fielder Nori Aoki, center fielder Angel Pagan, and right fielder Hunter Pence--is on the disabled list. (Aoki's back today.) One of the fill-ins, Justin Maxwell, is batting .189 with a .216 slugging percentage over the last 30 days. Injured second baseman Joe Panik's replacement, Ehire Adrianza, is batting .205 with a .273 slugging percentage over the past 30 days. Closer Santiago Casilla has been wobbly, with a 6.43 ERA over the last 30 days.

What's the Outlook? While the Giants are banged up, the Pirates could get third baseman Josh Harrison and shortstop Jordy Mercer back during the Giants series. Despite their injuries, the Giants have played well. Tonight's game is the Pirates' tenth in a span of 20 straight days with no time off. Adding the two veterans could give others on the roster a breather.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Next Up, Sort Of: The Arizona Diamondbacks

I could've sworn the series with the Snakes started tonight. Out for dinner last night, got home, fired up the AtBat app, and I sure was surprised to see the Pirates game there. So this is a preview of the next two games, I guess.

How Are They Doing Lately? The Diamondbacks are 16-12 over the past 30 days, resulting in a .571 winning percentage that is exactly in the middle of the 15-team National League. They've scored 4.6 runs per game, the sixth most, and given up 3.25 runs per game, the second fewest. That kind of run differential typically results in a record of 18-10 or 19-11 over 28 games. In fact, Arizona has the best run differential in the league over the last 30 days.

What's Going Right? Arizona's starting pitchers have a 3.22 ERA over the last 30 days, trailing only the Mets and Cardinals, and the relievers' 3.08 ERA is sixth best. The starters have induced grounders on 51% of batted balls, second most in the league, and have stranded 82% of baserunners, a figure that is both remarkably high and unlikely to persist. They've gotten batters to swing at 35% of pitches outside the strike zone, the highest percentage in the league over the last 30 days. The bullpen's also generated a lot of grounders, the second-highest percentage in the league.

The offense has been pretty good, too. Over the past 30 days, Diamondbacks hitters have the fourth highest batting average (.273), third highest on base percentage (.331), and sixth highest slugging percentage (.422). The club's tied with the Cubs for third in the league in stolen bases, with 21 over the period, with a good 75% success rate.

What's Going Wrong? The batters have struck out a lot (23% of plate appearances, fourth most in the league) and hit only 23 homers (fourth lowest) over the past 30 days. They lead the league in percentage of batted balls hit hard, but those hard-hit balls are resulting more in singles (they're first in the league over the past 30 days), doubles (fifth), and triples (first) than round trippers. 

Who's Hot? The Diamondbacks have two of the hottest hitters in baseball: Left fielder David Peralta has a .398/.440/.590 slash line with 23 RBI over the past 30 days, and center fielder A.J. Pollock's hitting .362/.425/.532 with 21 runs scored and ten stolen bases. Perennial All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt's at .319/.436/.457. Catcher Wellington Castillo's batting only .257 over the past 30 days but he's launched eight homers. Closer Brad Ziegler is seven-for-seven in saves with a 3.18 ERA over the past 30 days, and rookie lefty reliever Andrew Chafin has allowed five hits, two unintentional walks, and no runs over his last 13 games.

Who's Not? Tonight and tomorrow, the Pirates will face the two Arizona starters with the worst ERAs over the past 30 days: Chase Anderson (3.75) and Robbie Ray (5.33). Then again, last night's winning pitcher, Jeremy Hellickson, had a 3.72 ERA in the 30 days leading into the game, and he allowed just one run over 5.1 innings to get the win. Hard-luck reliever Daniel Hudson, who missed pitched in only 12 games over the past three years due to injuries, has allowed a 6.00 ERA and three homers over his last twelve appearances. 

The middle infield has been a Diamondbacks weakness all year. Rookie shortstop Nick Ahmed's a slick fielder but he's batting just .173/.198/.247 over the past 30 days. The Diamondbacks have two pitchers with a higher OPS this year than Ahmed's .445 over the past 30 days: Hellickson (.485) and Josh Collmenter (.486). Second baseman Chris Owings has also been bad--.235/.270/.341--and those numbers represent an improvement over his .231/.262/.329 prior to the last 30 days.

What's the Outlook? The Pirates swept three in Arizona back in April. That won't happen in this series. They start lefties Francisco Liriano and J.A. Happ the next two nights, and the Diamondbacks this year are worse against left-handed starters (12-15) than righties (46-44). On the other hand, they've almost exactly the same against both types of pitchers (.735 OPS against righties, .732 against lefties). With the hard-charging Cubs (15-2 in their last 17 games, now two games behind the Pirates for the first wild card) starting a two-game series at home against the disappointing Tigers, the Pirates probably need to at least split the last two games before opening a four-game series at home against the Giants.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Quick Updates: Strength of Schedule, Record Against Winning Teams

Strength of Schedule: If it seems as if the Pirates have been playing an unending string of games against good ballclubs, it's true. Since the All-Star Break, they've played 14 games against teams with winning records (Royals, Cubs, Dodgers, Cardinals, Mets), six against teams that had winning records at the time (Nationals, Twins), and only seven against teams with losing records (Brewers, Reds). As a result, they've gotten past the worst part of the difficult second half schedule I described earlier. Here are the weighted won-lost percentages of each National League team's remaining opponents:

   Eastern              Central              Western
Atlanta       .492   Cincinnati    .544   Colorado      .523
Philadelphia  .482   Milwaukee     .520   Arizona       .517
Miami         .472   Chicago       .508   San Francisco .517
Washington    .458   St. Louis     .504   Los Angeles   .499
New York      .443   Pittsburgh    .496   San Diego     .495

The Pirates now face the easiest schedule in their division over the rest of the season. It's not a huge difference--maybe a game easier than the Cubs and Cardinals over the remaining 45-46 games--but it's no longer a detriment.

And if you're wondering why the NL East teams have it so easy, it's because the division has only one team above .500 (the Mets, and their record's worse than five other teams in the league) and has the league's worst (Phillies), second-worst (Marlins), and sixth-worst (Braves) teams. They benefit from playing each other a lot.

Record Against Winning Teams: We heard some fretting earlier in the season about the Pirates' seeming inability to beat teams with winning records. I wrote about it in June. I wrote about it . Generally, teams that do well against teams with winning records, as opposed to just beating up on weak teams, do better in the postseason, when all the games are against good teams. Last year, for example, the Angels had the best regular-season record in the American League, and the Nationals and Dodgers were 1-2 in the National League. Each was bounced from the postseason in the Divisional Series. (Then again, the World Champion Giants had the third-worst record against winning teams in last year's postseason, so this isn't a hard and fast rule.)

To date, the Pirates are 26-18 against teams playing .500 or better ball. That's the third best record in the National League (the Cardinals are 31-19, the Cubs are barely ahead at 27-18) and the fourth best in the majors (the Blue Jays are 33-23). In addition, Pittsburgh's one of only four National League teams (the other's the 18-17 Giants) with a winning record against clubs that are .500 or above. So you can worry about rotation depth, Starling Marte's health, and first base, but you shouldn't worry about the Pirates' ability to compete with good teams.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Trailing 30 - August 16

Here is an explanation of this weekly feature, listing the best and worst of past 30 days, made possible by FanGraphs' Leaders application. Comment for the week: We've fully lapped the All-Star break, so these numbers have more validity than they have of late. Given that, I think you could argue that the three most disappointing teams in the American League are the Red Sox, White Sox, and Mariners. Regarding the latter two, check out the third, fourth, and fifth worst ERAs in the league. Yes, it's just over the last 30 days, and yes, a lot of stuff's gone wrong for Chicago and Seattle. But those were, going into the season, three of the best pitchers in the majors.

   American League              National League
   Team W-L                     Team W-L      
1. Toronto         19- 8     1. Chicago         20- 8
2. Kansas City     18-12     2. St. Louis       19- 8    
3. New York        16-11     3. Philadelphia    17- 9         
4. Texas           16-11     4. San Francisco   17-10   
5. Baltimore       15-12     5. New York        16-12        

   Worst Team W-L               Worst Team W-L
1. Minnesota        9-18     1. Colorado         8-19      
2. Boston          10-17        Miami            8-19       
   Oakland         10-17     3. Washington      10-19      
4. Detroit         12-16     4. Atlanta         10-17
5. Los Angeles     12-16     5. Cincinnati      12-17

   Batting Average              Batting Average     
1. Hosmer, KC       .395     1. Peralta, Ari     .407  
2. Brantley, Cle    .380     2. Votto, Cin       .404      
3. Kinsler, Det     .374     3. Posey, SF        .381           
4. Cruz, Sea        .373     4. Pollock, Ari     .360          
5. Lindor, Cle      .364     5. LeMahieu, Col    .350       

   Lowest Batting Average       Lowest Batting Average  
1. Gose, Det        .154     1. Ahmed, Ari       .157          
2. Infante, KC      .158     2. Pederson, LA     .171       
3. Vogt, Oak        .169     3. Frazier, Cin     .194
4. Hunter, Min      .171     4. Dietrich, Mia    .209           
5. LaRoche, Chi     .176     5. Bryant, Cin      .212      

   On Base Percentage           On Base Percentage  
1. Brantley, Cle    .463     1. Votto, Cin       .559           
2. Eaton, Chi       .456     2. Goldschmidt, Ari .454         
3. Encarnacion, Tor .441     3. Peralta, Ari     .441         
4. Choo, Tex        .449     4. Fowler, Chi      .438          
5. Cruz, Sea        .448     5. Harper, Was      .433      
   Slugging Percentage          Slugging Percentage   
1. Davis, Bal       .814     1. Gonzalez, Col    .745        
2. Cruz, Sea        .809     2. Votto, Cin       .702     
3. Ortiz, Bos       .742     3. Peralta, Ari     .686       
4. Teixeira, NY     .667     4. Duda, NY         .640       
5. Donaldson, Tor   .663     5. Grichuk, SL      .625        
   Home Runs                    Home Runs
1. Davis, Bal         15     1. Gonzalez, Col      13
2. Cruz, Sea          14     2. Carpenter, SL       9        
3. Bautista, Tor      10        Duda, NY            9
   Donaldson, Tor     10     4. 4 with              8
   Ortiz, Bos         10     

   Runs                         Runs    
1. Hosmer, KC         27     1. Gonzalez, Col      24        
2. Davis, Bal         23        Votto, Cin         24     
   Eaton, Chi         23     3. Fowler, Chi        22
   Kinsler, Det       23        Pollock, Ari       22
5. 3 with             21        Schwarber, Chi     22

   RBI                          RBI      
1. Davis, Bal         36     1. Gonzalez, Col      31        
2. Ortiz, Bos         29     2. Peralta, Ari       24      
3. Donaldson, Tor     26     3. Bruce, Cin         22       
4. Hosmer, KC         25     4. 5 with             21
5. Cabrera, Chi       24        
   Stolen Bases                 Stolen Bases             
1. Dyson, KC          11     1. Pollock, Ari       10
2. Burns, Oak          7     2. Hamilton, Cin       9     
3. 5 with              6     3. Blackmon, Col       8   
                                LeMahieu, Col       8
                             5. 3 with              7
   Saves                        Saves
1. Tolleson, Tex       9     1. Kimbrel, SD        10
2. Miller, NY          8        Rosenthal, SL      10
   Osuna, Tor          8     3. Rodriguez, Mil      9
4. Holland, KC         7        Rondon, Chi         9
5. 2 with              6     5. Melancon, Pit       8

   ERA                          ERA
1. Kazmir, Oak-Hou  1.05     1. Kershaw, LA      0.92
2. Dickey, Tor      1.49     2. Harvey, NY       1.23
3. Cueto, KC        1.80     3. Arrieta, Chi     1.56
4. Salazar, Cle     1.85     4. deGrom, NY       1.64
5. Gray, Oak        2.13     5. Nelson, Mil      1.99

   Worst ERA                    Worst ERA
1. Gibson, Min      7.39     1. Cain, SF         6.75
2. Jimenez, Bal     7.39     2. Wisler, Atl      6.43
3. Samardzija, Chi  7.28     3. Locke, Pit       5.79
4. Sale, Chi        6.39     4. de la Rosa, Col  5.67
5. Hernandez, Sea   6.31     5. Rusin, Col       5.33

   WHIP                         WHIP
1. Carrasco, Cle    0.64     1. Kershaw, LA      0.59
2. Kluber, Cle      0.85     2. Harvey, NY       0.71
3. Iwakuma, Sea     0.86     3. deGrom, NY       0.79
4. Bassitt, Oak     0.87     4. Greinke, LA      0.91
5. Salazar, Cle     0.88     5. Lester, Chi      0.93

   Strikeouts                   Strikeouts
1. Archer, TB         47     1. Kershaw, LA        45     
   Price, Det-Tor     47     2. Scherzer, Was      44
3. Kluber, Cle        39     3. Arrieta, Chi       40
4. Iwakuma, Sea       38        deGrom, NY         40
5. Keuchel, Hou       37        Lester, Chi        40