20 Statistical Oddities from the 2011 MLB Season So Far
One month in the books, another five to go.
The 2011 MLB regular season has already been one to remember. We’ve seen countless no-hitters carried into late innings, as well as some games where the pitcher couldn’t make it past the second inning.
Some fresh faces have broken onto the scene with scorching Aprils (Sam Fuld, Darwin Barney) as have some old faces (Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia). Some perennial All-Stars (Joey Votto, Matt Holliday) are well on their way to a trip to Arizona this July, while some others (Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez, Alex Rios) have fallen flat on their faces.
And with a sample size of about 25 games or five starts for the pitchers, April has brought out some very interesting statistics. For those of you who say “April doesn’t matter,” this may not be your gig, but for the rest of us who want to believe Ryan Braun could smash 60 homers, Sam Fuld could swipe 70 bags, a Major League Baseball could hit below the Mendoza Line and another team could post the first sub-3.00 ERA in over two decades, these stats are for you.
.211 – San Diego Padres Team Batting Average
We all expected the Padres offense to pack a little less punch in 2011 after the offseason departure of slugger Adrian Gonzalez, but no one expected them to be this bad. As a team, the Padres are batting .211, a couple ticks below the “Real Mendoza Line” (.215), the informal threshold of incompetent hitting. (Often people say the Mendoza Line is .200, I interpret it as .215 since Mario Mendoza’s career average was just that.)
Regardless, the Padres’ slow start has dropped the team to fifth place in the NL West and has certainly started to damage the psyche of the team’s pitching staff, the lone bright spot this month. Despite 18 quality starts, just five have turned into wins for the starters. Brad Hawpe, Ryan Ludwick and Jorge Cantu, three of the team’s biggest run producers, are all batting below .200 and Will Venable, Chase Headley and Jason Bartlett are not much above it.
8 Stolen Base Attempts, 0 Sac Bunts, 64 Walks – Baltimore Orioles
No team in baseball this season has displayed less of a small-ball approach than the Baltimore Orioles. In each of the three categories that define the small-ball technique (stolen base attempts, sac bunts and walks), the Orioles are last in the major leagues in each category.
With the addition of big-boppers like Mark Reynolds, Vlad Guerrero and Derrek Lee this offseason, we probably should’ve seen this coming, but my goodness.
.500+ OBP – Jose Bautista, Matt Holliday, Joey Votto
Three All-Stars, Jose Bautista, Matt Holliday and Joey Votto, have been really annoying opposing pitchers so far in 2011. Besides being their respective team leaders, each of these three have been getting on base over half of the time they step up to the dish. Numbers like that haven’t been posted since Barry Bonds’ walk record-breaking campaign in 2004.
Despite not leading his team in any of the major categories (R, RBI, HR), Holliday is the only player to bat .400 in the month of April and reached base safely in all but one game. Meanwhile, both Bautista and Votto have also reached base in all but one game last month, but the corner infielders did so while leading finishing the month first and second in walks respectively.
5 Players with 6 or More Home Runs – New York Yankees
No team has relied on the long ball for run production as much as the Yankees have in 2011. With a league-leading 43 home runs in the month of April (No. 2 is Cincinnati with 33), the Yanks have become the most fearsome lineup top to bottom with five players with six or more home runs on the season.
On the list: Robinson Cano (eight), Curtis Granderson (seven), Russell Martin (six), Jorge Posada (six) and Mark Teixeira (six).
What’s even more scary is that Alex Rodriguez, who is on pace to be the future All-Time Home Run King and Nick Swisher, a consistent 25+ HR guy are both missing.
Another fun statistic for you: 58.9 percent of the Yankees runs have come by long ball. That is a lot.
7 Stolen Bases/2 Base Hits – Jarrod Dyson (KC)
Jarrod Dyson may be the fastest man in baseball, and although he is not an everyday starter, he may actually challenge for the league lead in stolen bases this season.
This April, Dyson has been a huge asset off the bench for the Royals as a pinch-running specialist utilized late in games. Already this April, he’s scored the winning run twice and tied the game up once by utilizing his blazing speed to steal bags that put him in scoring position and/or scoring from third on shallow sac flys or from second on singles to the outfield.
Dyson will not be an everyday player for Kansas City and has only started four games this year, but manager Ned Yost has certainly showed that he will get quite a few opportunities as a base thief late in games. Dyson certainly has 30-40 stolen base potential while coming off the bench this year.
1 Walk in 92 Plate Appearances – Coco Crisp
As a leadoff hitter, your primary job is to get on base anyway you can. The Oakland A’s leadoff man, Coco Crisp, chooses to do it by swinging the bat. With a team low 3.48 pitches seen per plate appearance, Crisp has been one of the least patient hitters in the entire league (top 20).
He’s batting .286, a little above his career average of .277, but with the brilliance of the A’s pitching staff and lack of power hitters, a strong small-ball approach is what will make Oakland a playoff contender in 2011. That approach begins at the top. I expect Crisp to pick up the walk rate as the season moves on.
64.3% Fly-Ball Rate & 31.7% Swing Rate – Jonny Gomes
Cincinnati Reds’ outfielder Jonny Gomes knows exactly what he’s looking for when he steps up to the plate: a pitch he can elevate. After one month of the 2011 season, Gomes leads the league in flyball rate while posting the second lowest swing rate among all major leaguers.
The approach has certainly worked so far for Gomes who leads the Reds in both home runs (six) and sacrifice flies (two). He’s had a very streaky first month of the season, finishing with just a .200 batting average but so far this season, Gomes has had a unique talent of turning flyballs into homers (19.4 percent HR/FB rate).
Extra Base Hit Leaders – Carlos Quentin, Ben Zobrist and Lance Berkman
When you look at these three names, you might think we’re back in 2008 or 2009, when these names actually mattered. Somehow, these three guys have made their way back into the picture and lead all major leaguers in extra base hits through the month of April.
Quentin (19 XBH) has been a force in the Chicago White Sox lineup with a league-leading 13 doubles, making up for the last production of Alex Rios. Zobrist (17 XBH) meanwhile has gotten off to a hot start with the Longoria-less Rays including a ridiculous 6-6, three extra-base hit, eight RBI game last week.
Berkman (16 XBH) gets his own paragraph: The Cardinals offseason pickup has been an incredible addition in St. Louis, and with the removed pressure of playing for a terrible Houston squad or unforgiving Yankee squad, Berkman has returned to his heyday, with eight doubles and eight home runs placing him a surprising second in total bases this season.
1-26 with 9 K’s – Washington Nationals Pinch Hitters
Multiple times during the 2010-11 offseason, Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said he wanted to bolster the team’s bench and did so, adding pinch-hitting specialists Matt Stairs and Laynce Nix. While the team has called on Stairs, Nix and company for timely hitting on many occasions this season, it would be quite the understatement to say they haven’t delivered.
With Stairs 0-for-10 and Nix 0-7 in pinch-hitting situations, it may be time to find some new specialists or give bullpen regulars Tyler Clippard, Doug Slaten and Sean Burnett some hacks. Not really.
2.79 ERA – Oakland Athletics Pitchers
The last pitching staff to post a sub-3.00 ERA was the 1989 Los Angeles Dodgers led by Tim Belcher, former Cy Young award winner Fernando Valenzuela and All-Stars Orel Hersheiser and Jay Howell.
Since then we’ve seen the Braves’ trio of Glavine, Maddux and Smoltz (who led Atlanta to 3.13 ERA in 2002), the Dodgers’ ’03 staff led by Hideo Nomo, Kevin Brown and relief ace Eric Gagne (3.16 ERA in 2003), and the Giants’ unbeatable staff highlighted by Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain (league-leading 3.36 ERA last year) all fail to repeat the feat. The 2011 Oakland A’s staff is on to something special.
All six starters used thus far: Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy, Tyson Ross and Dallas Braden are off to great starts this season. While Anderson and Cahill can be counted on for low ERAs and WHIPs, it’s the electric Gonzalez, the inexperienced Ross, the inconsistent Braden and unknown McCarthy that could turn Oakland into a serious contender in 2011. The A’s pitching staff has serious potential to be great; it’s just a question of how great.
5 Wins/5 Games Started – Justin Masterson
Everyone knows how incredible Jered Weaver has been to start the season. In six starts the Angels’ ace has posted a 0.99 ERA on his way to six wins, two of which he’s gone the distance. He leads the league with 49 strikeouts and has been nothing short of untouchable.
Meanwhile, Justin Masterson has also quietly gotten off to an incredible start to the year going 5-for-5 on wins as well. Unlike Weaver, Masterson has had a few good games (including a nine-K performance at Seattle) as well as some iffy ones (five walks, 103 pitches through six IP at Kansas City). Regardless, he’s done a great job keeping runners from crossing the plate and has been a big reason why Cleveland is off to their best start in franchise history.
Note: Masterson went for win No. 6 Sunday against the Detroit Tigers and earned a no decision.
4 Losses/4 Games Started – Mat Latos
Meanwhile, last year’s sophomore sensation Mat Latos has had an April to forget. After missing his first start of the season with a shoulder injury, he since has shown flashes of dominance, but also has struggled equally as much.
With a 10.4 K/9 rate, he certainly has displayed the high strikeout potential that garnered him Cy Young votes last season, but has also really struggled with avoiding the long ball (2.1 HR/9, fourth in the majors).
With an offense batting .210, Latos surely feels the pressure to post up zeros every inning, but I wonder if he’s overthrowing and feeling too much pressure. I have faith he’ll bounce back; he’s too talented not to.
3-0 w/ a 4.40 ERA vs. 0-3 w/ 1.99 ERA – Mike Leake (CIN) vs. Dustin Mosely (SD)
This is a classic example of what can happen when you have fantastic run support and what can happen when you get horrendous run support.
Mike Leake has certainly not been bad this year, posting four quality starts in five chances, while posting a 1.207 WHIP and 2.60 K/BB (both solid numbers for a starting pitcher). He’s essentially been what he was last season, a solid four starter. He also however, is one of only two pitchers (the other being Jeremy Hellickson) that has received over one run of support per inning pitched (10 Runs of Support per nine IP to be exact).
Meanwhile, Dustin Mosely is off to a career year behind a 1.99 ERA and 1.105 WHIP, yet is 0-3. In 31.2 innings over five starts, the Padres have scored TWO runs. On average, he gets less than one run (0.57) from his offense per nine innings of pitching. We’ve alluded to it three different times now: The Padres really are hands-down the worst offense in baseball.
11.9 K/9 – Matt Garza
Cubs’ starter Matt Garza is not having the best season of his career. In fact he’s posted just three quality starts in six total, has had an ERA above four for most of the season (3.96 after yesterday) and has just one win. What he has brought to Chicago, however, is an incredible ability to get the swing and miss for strike three.
Throughout his career, Garza has had a solid strikeout rate (7.3 K/9) but since his move to the National League, he has become one of the National League’s top strikeout pitchers. Some people suggest it’s the whole NL is easier than AL thing, but I allude it to the fact that he recognizes he’s no longer playing in front of one of the league’s top defenses at Tampa Bay.
Regardless, Garza has used his secondary pitches (slider, curveball, changeup) far more often and much more effectively this season. He’s a top 20 pitcher in swinging strike percentage (11.4 percent) and has gotten the third strike with a swing-and-miss a remarkable 88 percent of the time.
Needless to say, Matt Garza is on his way to being this year’s breakout pitcher.
1.025 OPS Against – Ryan Dempster
Ryan Dempster is another player who hopes to quickly forget April. With a 9.58 ERA and 1.87 WHIP, the Cubs starter has gotten lit up all month. He’s given up at least four runs in each of his six starts, including a seven-run, 0.1-inning nightmare on Thursday. Through just 31 innings, he’s top 10 (that’s a bad thing) in doubles allowed, triples allowed, home runs allowed and walks.
With a 1.025 OPS against, that’s similar to saying opposing lineups turn into nine Alex Rodriguez (1.016 OPS this season) or Prince Fielders (1.047 OPS).
7 Cheap Wins – Colorado Rockies
A cheap win is one in which the game’s starting pitcher fails to pitch six complete innings or allows more than three earned runs. Of the Rockies’ 17 NL West-leading wins, seven of them are considered “cheap.”
The Rockies offense has been producing at a high rate all month and should continue, but this does raise cause for concern. Both Jorge de la Rosa and Esmil Rodgers already have two “cheap wins” apiece. Rodgers, in fact, has gone six innings in just one of his four starts.
To top it off, Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez has a team-worst 6.75 ERA and has failed to post a quality start in any of his three starts last month.
The Rockies’ seven “cheap wins” is already more than Seattle, San Francisco, Baltimore, New York (NL) and Chicago (AL) posted all of the 2010 season. The Rockies are certainly an NL West contender, but their pitching staff certainly does have some red flags.
5.6 Innings Pitched Per Start – San Francisco Giants’ Rotation
Last season, the San Francisco Giants ran to the World Series title behind one of the most dominant pitching staffs of recent memory. Giants starters posted quality start after quality start and all five staffers, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Barry Zito and Madison Bumgarner proved able to pitch deep into games consistently down the stretch.
Last season the Giants finished fourth among all teams with a 6.2 Innings Pitched per Game Started (IP/GS) rate. The streaky Sanchez was the lowest of the five last season at 5.8 IP/GS.
However, in 2011, the elite staff hasn’t looked so consistent. Both Zito and Bumgarner’s inconsistencies have the staff sitting fourth from last in the majors with a 5.6 IP/GS. The Giants have a great bullpen, but with the talent that the five starters possess, there is no question that the team’s best shot at repeating in 2011 stems from solid starts.
Sub-50% Save Conversion Rate – Chicago White Sox (33%) & Houston Astros (36%)
In the last decade, just two teams (2008 Nationals ~49 percent and 2002 Cubs ~48 percent) have had save converted percentages under 50 percent. So far this April, both the Astros and White Sox bullpens have gotten off to horrendous starts posting sub-40 percent rates.
Entering the 2011 season, Matt Thornton was expected to become the next top American League closer for the White Sox. Instead, he blew four straight save opportunities and, with an 8.64 ERA, has fallen out of favor with the short-tempered skipper Ozzie Guillen.
Twenty-two-year old Chris Sale, who was next in line, blew one of his two opportunities and since then, the job has fallen to the unknown Sergio Santos. In nine games this season, he is yet to allow a run and for now has the job locked down.
Meanwhile in Houston, Brandon Lyon has been the team’s closer all season, having converted four save opportunities while blowing three. The rest of the team’s four blown saves have come in earlier innings and could be viewed as “blown holds.” Regardless, the Astros ‘pen needs some shoring up for them to not be cellar-dwellers in 2011.
Interestingly enough, the Phillies, who lost closer Brad Lidge during spring training and have relied on a “closer by committee” (Jose Contreras and Ryan Madson), lead the league, converting 89 percent of their save opportunities.
Sub-20% Inherited Score Percentage – LA Angels, Chicago Cubs, Colorado Rockies,
While some bullpens have completely imploded in 2011 (see: Chicago White Sox), four bullpens are off to incredible starts. In my opinion, the most important measure of effectiveness of a bullpen is not a collective WHIP or ERA number, but instead is about how many inherited runners they allow to score. Since 1995, no team has posted a sub-20 percent rate, but through April 2011, four bullpens have done just that.
The Angels (14 percent IS%) bullpen has been downright stingy. Hisanori Takahaski has allowed just one of his nine inherited runners score, and although 23-year-old closer Jordan Walden doesn’t have to deal with coming in with men on base very often, he’s posted a fantastic 0.73 ERA in the first month.
The Cubs (14 percent) have been quite the opposite of their inconsistent rotation this April. All eight of their relievers have stranded at least two runners, led by Jeff Stevens, who has stranded six, and Marcus Mateo, who has stranded five.
The Rangers bullpen (15 percent) has had its share of questions marks with the loss of Alexi Ogando to the rotation and Neftali Feliz to injury but overall the bullpen has been fantastic with their main five arms (eight games or more) all posting ERAs under 2.50. Pedro Strop and Arthur Rhodes have been perfect in stranding runners with six and four a piece.
Lastly, the Rockies’ bullpen has been a pleasant surprise in 2011, highlighted by closer Huston Street and his majors-leading 10 saves. The middle relief guys have been even more impressive. Matt Lindstrom has stranded five of his six men inherited while strikeout specialist (14.2 K/9) Matt Reynolds has stranded all eight of his inherited runners.
55% Caught Stealing Percentage – Kurt Suzuki
It’s been three years since there has been a primary catcher in the majors with a caught stealing percentage greater than 50 percent.
Cardinals’ catcher Yadier Molina has been near the top each of the past couple seasons, but it’s A’s backstop Kurt Suzuki who has been gunning down runners all April. Suzuki, who threw out just 22 percent in 2010 and 25 percent in 2009, is the only starting catcher this season who has thrown out more runners than the number of bases swiped against him. A league-leading 16 unbelieving runners have already been thrown out and surely there will be more to come.