2014 MLB Free Agents Whose Stats Don't Tell the Truth
Even for fans who have a more traditional outlook when it comes to statistics, baseball is still a game of numbers. And for those who do embrace advanced statistics, they know there’s a lot more to these numbers than what meets the eye.
For better or worse, peripheral statistics expose the true performances of pitchers and hitters alike.
For instance, free agent Edinson Volquez led the league in earned runs in 2013. But considering the ground-baller pitched with the second-worst defense behind him, Volquez didn’t stand much of a chance for success last season.
Read on to see all of the 2014 MLB free agents whose statistics don’t tell the truth.
For many fans (and too many critics), fielding percentage (FP) is still the most mainstream statistic for determining a player’s aptness for defense.
FP is calculated as follows:
(Putouts + Assists) / (Putouts + Assists + Errors)
And just like any surface statistic, FP neglects important peripheral angles. The Fielding Bible’s DRS (defensive runs saved) is an advanced metric that, according to FanGraphs.com, “rates individual players as above or below average on defense.”
Free agent Mark Ellis is a prime example of how little FP illustrates about a player’s defensive abilities. Despite a middle-of-the-pack .989 fielding percentage (ranked ninth among all starting second baseman), Ellis also gloved an elite 12 DRS, which was only second to Dustin Pedroia.
And while the 36-year-old, who hit .270 with six home runs, is unlikely to land a big contract this offseason, Ellis quietly collected a 3.0 bWAR in 2013—mostly due to his Gold Glove-worthy defense.
For a fuller explanation of DRS, visit FanGraphs.com’s glossary.
Phil Hughes surrenders far too many home runs. The right-hander served up 24 home runs over 145.2 innings in 2013, which is equivalent to 1.5 home runs per nine innings.
And if you don’t think 1.5 home runs per nine innings is a lot, just ask any New York Yankees fan what they think of Hughes.
Hughes’ rocky relationship with the long ball is hardly a new phenomenon, but his issues are in part a product of Yankee Stadium.
HR at Home
HR at Away
Per the above chart, 69.8 percent of Hughes’ home runs over the past four seasons have come at home. While leaving Yankee Stadium would do wonders for his production, Hughes would have to play in a particularly pitcher-friendly ballpark to see a drastic difference.
How the mighty have fallen. Once traded for Josh Hamilton, Edinson Volquez has seen better days. The right-hander posted a 5.71 ERA (versus a park-adjusted 60 ERA+), 1.58 WHIP and 1.84 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 170.1 innings for the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013.
But while leading the league with 108 earned runs is hardly a defensible feat, Volquez was still a lot unluckier than his surface statistics suggested.
According to his minus-1.78 “FIP-TRA (total earned runs),” the 30-year-old endured the second-worst defense behind him in 2013 (for starting pitchers with at least 100 innings).
And even though Volquez’s 28-inning stint with the Dodgers was a small sample size, the ground-ball pitcher’s 4.18 ERA (versus an 86 ERA+), 1.17 WHIP and 3.25 strikeout-to-walk ratio illustrates how a top-five defense can help get outs.
Note: FIP-TRA (total earned runs) can be calculated using the following formula: FIP - (Runs*9)/IP.
Edward Mujica entered 2013 as a middle reliever for the St. Louis Cardinals. But from April 18 to August 26, Mujica seemingly emerged as one of the most dominant closers in baseball. Over that span, the right-hander pitched to the tune of a 1.72 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 19.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 35 saves.
But Mujica had the opposite “problem” to Edinson Volquez: Mujica’s defense was too good. The 29-year-old did not witness one error behind him while he was on the hill, which played a role in his extreme FIP (3.71) versus ERA (2.78) disparity.
Mujica’s blessings caught up with him in the final month of the season, however. The reliever posted an 11.05 ERA and lost his closing gig to Trevor Rosenthal.
Given the abundance of closers in free agency, it’s unlikely a team will hand Mujica a ninth-inning job.
When the Boston Red Sox signed Mike Napoli to a one-year contract last offseason, no one knew what kind of production the beaten-up slugger would be able to provide. But in retrospect, it was a brilliant move.
But even though Napoli’s 2013 campaign was hardly his finest season, it’s possible luck was still on the Florida native’s side. The 32-year-old collected an unsustainable .367 BABIP in 2013, despite owning a career .299 rate.
It’s not unreasonable to project that Napoli will not be able to maintain the 68-point BABIP disparity in 2014.