Thursday, May 20, 2010

Stat geeks unite

Just as the Reds give up 7 runs in the 9th to lose 10-9 in Atlanta, I offer this bit of analysis by the stat geeks at Baseball Prospectus:

Like Noble Cincinnatus, They Accept First Place Only Reluctantly

Our analysis of team performance, as is traditional, begins with Pythagoras. Currently, the Reds' Pythagorean record is 17-20 (three games worse than their actual record), while their Pythagenpat record has them just fractional games below .500. Their third-order projection is 18-19, which suggests that the Reds have been about a .500-quality team so far. That may be strong enough to hang tough with the Cardinals for a while, but PECOTA saw the Cardinals as a 93-win team before the season, and Redleg fans should hope their home nine can put some additional daylight between them and the Cardinals.

How about individual performances? According to Sean Smith’s batting runs above replacement, recently added to Baseball-Reference, Reds hitting has been 11 runs below average so far this season. The combined efforts of Joey Votto and Ryan Hanigan (who has hit a surprising .368/.478/.561 in 69 plate appearances) have given the Reds 17 runs above average, but have been completely swamped by the poor offensive performances of Drew Stubbs, Miguel Cairo, Chris Dickerson, and Orlando Cabrera, who have collectively been 21 runs below average.

The pitching and defense have not been significantly better. The defense ranks 16th (slightly below average) in Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (PADE), a measure of the rate at which the Reds have converted balls in play into outs. So far, the standout pitcher has been rookie phenom and 2009 first-rounder Mike Leake, who has put up a nifty 4-0 record and a 3.09 ERA. The peripherals, though, suggest some caution: Leake has just a 33/20 K/BB ratio in 46 2/3 innings, though he has induced grounders in over half of all plate appearances. His .245 BABIP is tough to accord with the Reds' average defense, particularly in light of his ground-ball tendencies. His 4.23 SIERA is much closer to what we can expect going forward.

Were it not for outcomes on balls in play as miserable as Leake’s have been good, people would be talking about Aaron Harang’s comeback year. The 32-year-old has a 3.75 K/BB ratio and an uncharacteristically high ground-ball percentage despite his 6.02 ERA. The combination has conspired to give Harang a 3.51 SIERA. The rest of the rotation has clustered around league average, with decent efforts from Johnny Cueto (3.94 SIERA) and Homer Bailey (4.26).

Taken together, these elements suggest that the Reds are a slightly pitching-heavy squad with some holes in their lineup and a mix of over- and under-performers in the rotation. If that sounds like the description of a team that goes .500 the rest of the way, it’s because that’s what it is most likely to be. Even that would put the Reds at 84-78, which would be the team’s best finish since 2000 and could give them a chance at the playoffs. If Brandon Phillips can rebound a little bit, and Jay Bruce can complete the Feats of Strength to appease the BABIP gods, no one should be surprised to see meaningful baseball in Cincinnati this September.

After the gut-wrenching sweep in Atlanta, and heading into interleague play, maybe it's better to remove some of the emotion. But let's hope it isn't all gone.

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