Thursday, August 1, 2013

Who's HOT, Who's NOT For July

There's no shortage of fun one can have with Baseball-Reference when you pay the absurd price of $36 to access their Play Index feature, but there's plenty of good stuff if that's too steep for you. I discovered a tool a couple months back that I'm pretty sure is free, but not easy to find:
Home>Seasons>2013 MLB>Other>Last N Days Leader
Play around with it and you can see all kinds of interesting slices of the 2013 season--only your imagination will limit the way you can view the data.

First, I'm pretty sure (but not positive) that this feature does require a subscription. This can be found at:
 Home>Play Index>Streaks
Two teams stand out, the Dodgers (19-6) and Rays (21-5). The Rays started July 43-39, 5.5 games back of the Yankees in the AL East and 3 games behind the Orioles for the last AL wild card spot. They are now 1 game behind the Red Sox and Pirates for the best record in baseball at 64-44 and have basically traded places with the Yankees. Wil Myers' batted .352 to propel him into an otherwise lackluster AL ROY race but the pitching was spectular:

When the WORST ERA for the month is 3.86, well... Chris Archer was part of the deal that sent Matt Garza to the Cubs, and with Garza wearing a Rangers jersey and the other parts of the deal never playing for the Cubs, that trade serves as a fitting epitaph to the Jim Hendry method of team-building. Matt Moore is making more than a rookie contract but is still incredibly affordable through 2017 and Archer is under team control through 2018. David Price will show how the Rays have operated in the past and other teams will copy--find young pitching talent, keep them as cheaply as possible and when their time comes (like it did for James Shields and will for David Price possibly as soon as this off-season), bid them a fond farewell and re-load.

The Dodgers were in a similar situation as the Rays--39-43 on July 2nd but only 2.5 games back of the Diamondbacks. At the time I was conflicted since I thought they could be the biggest sellers at the trade deadline, but with the NL West so up for grabs, and with a lineup that was either underperforming or hurt, it was also possible they'd stand pat and see what happens. What happened was Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez returning to their former selves, Yasiel Puig cooling off and hitting "only" .287 and Andre Ethier batting .312--and accomplishing all of this without Matt Kemp. Heads were scratched when they traded for Ricky Nolasco, but along with the already solid performance of Clayton Kershaw and a good month from Zack Greinke, they roared past everyone to now LEAD the NL West by 2.5 games. Unless there's a collapse of epic proportions, both wild card spots will come out of the Central, but it appears that the West is the Dodgers to lose.

The White Sox, Astros and Twins all had fewer than 10 wins in July, and who cares? The only highlight for the Giants in July was visiting President Obama as they went 8-17. The Cardinals didn't have a bad month (13-12) but have lost 7 straight and if they lose to the Pirates tonight would be the first time they've been swept in a 5-game series since 1916 (courtesy of @STATS_MLB). I have a hard time believe that ANY team has been swept in a 5-game series due to the rarity of such series, but I'm not about to try to research that.

Here are the top home run hitters in July:
Ever thought about Adrian Beltre in the Hall of Fame? Better start--if he retired today he'd be the 14th-best third baseman as ranked by FanGraphs, and he's got time to pad those numbers since he's only 34. Alfonso Soriano picked the right month to get hot and made an immediate (and likely futile) contribution with his hitting upon his trade to the Yankees. Jayson Werth's run is probably too late to dig the Nationals out of the hole they've put themselves in and Dan Uggla, while hitting homers, didn't hit much more. Chris Davis continues to pile on his monster year and Adam Jones regained the stroke the Orioles were counting on.

This chart goes in a different direction and shows the worst OPS among batters with at least 40 PA:
It must be noted that most of these players cluster around the 40-50 PA range because when hitting goes, usually playing times goes right along with it. There's nobody worth discussing on this list except Jeff Francoeur--as the Cubs were playing the Giants on Sunday, July 28th, Cubs TV broadcasters Len Kasper (@LenKasper) and Jim Deshaies were discussing his age with Len (I think) saying "Doesn't it seem like he should be around 34?" He has the best arm in the game (these numbers are through 2012):

That great arm got him released by the Royals and he's entered the vagabond stage of his career at 29. That's what not hitting well causes.

These pitchers had the most wins in July:

Three of the Rays pitchers are in the list and Matt Garza has been extremely effective since he made his late start with the Cubs. No, I want to discuss Jeremy Guthrie and A.J. Griffin as illustrations of MLB Network's Brian Kenny (@MrBrianKenny) and his #killthewin movement that he started. He's been tweeting quite a bit about pitchers with Game Scores above 60 who get either a loss or a no-decision and I wrote about it recently. Most of the pitchers on this list had a lights-out July, but Guthrie and Griffin were beneficiaries of timely offense and didn't achieve their wins through great pitching--Joe Saunders probably deserves mention as well with a WHIP of 1.582, which is NOT GOOD. Until the win is replaced (and don't ask me with what) there will be people like me harping about how great a pitcher was by getting x number of wins in a month, but I'll try to temper it by pointing out WHIP--that number by Clayton Kershaw is out of this world and why it will be a close vote between him and Adam Wainwright for NL Cy Young.

This chart shows the worst pitchers by WHIP (minimum of 5 games started):

I'm not sure if Barry Zito's contract is the worst contract ever signed in baseball history, but it's right up there. The rest of these guys just had a bad month--CC Sabathia isn't going anywhere as he's owed $98 million through 2017 and Gio Gonzalez has been okay overall but not anywhere the pitcher he was in 2012. Pitching is so capricious that one bad month can easily rebound into a good one, and if I was really diligent (and I'm not) I'd look more into their fielding independent pitching, but I'll save that for another day.

One last thought--what drove the two hot teams? Clearly their pitching, even though they had decent hitting. Hitting has been on the decline since around 2007 for any number of reasons and pitching ascendant. Teams might be able to hit their way to success, but it sure appears they can pitch their way to it even more so, which is completely logical--with good pitching that keeps runs allowed down, less pressure is put on the offense to score bunches of runs. The Rays and Dodgers did outscore their opponents by the second-most amount (53 each) but were bested in that by the Tigers at 66, who finished the month 18-8. We're about 6-7 years into what appears to be a new era of pitching outperforming the hitting, and while this period lasts, it will be the teams that have months like the Rays and Dodgers that will have success.

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