Key NL statistics
With more GMs turning to empirical data for decision-making help, a team-by-team look at some revealing statistics.
A team-by-team look at some noteworthy numbers in the National League:
While a pitcher's ERA gives you a good representation of how he performed over the course of a season, you can't tell as much about the accomplishments during an individual game unless you use a more game-specific metric. Bill James developed Game Scores as a way to rate a pitcher's performance in a single game, using an arbitrary baseline score of 50 for an average game. Two dominating Diamondback teammates provided the top Game Scores of 2003. On May 14, Curt Schilling shut down the Phillies, pitching a complete game two-hitter and striking out 14 for a Game Score of 96. Four months later, Randy Johnson did the same to the Rockies, striking out 12, but allowing only one hit to match Schilling's score of 96.
By signing free agent John Thomson, the Braves allowed Texas to obtain the 30th overall pick in the 2004 amateur draft. Obviously, players picked in the first round are more likely to make an impact in the majors than those picked in later rounds, but as it turns out, late first-rounders have a significantly smaller chance to make an impact than early first-rounders. In 1992, the draft expanded to 28 first-round selections. Between that year and 1999, 75 percent of players picked in the first four spots made an impact in the majors. Players picked between Nos. 12 and 15 did not fare as well, with only 34 percent of those reaching the same level. By the end of the first round (picks No. 26 and above), the number slides all the way down to 12 percent. Thomson is an established major-league pitcher. To sign him, the Braves forfeited a draft pick. The small sampling of data above shows that perhaps the Braves took the safer of the two options.
Mark Prior and Kerry Wood finished 1-2 in pitches per start in 2003, but apparently both were able to shoulder the load. While some pitchers lose effectiveness after a high number of pitches, the Chicago duo increased their effectiveness after six innings, each allowing a lower OPS after the sixth. Most pitchers are also adversely affected in the start immediately following a high pitch count, but both Prior and Wood were able to avoid that as well. Despite starting 30 games, Prior had only two starts (May 21 and July 24) where he appeared to show fatique after throwing a large number of pitches in his previous start. Wood had a similar pattern, regularly pitching gems after high pitch counts. Prior and Wood have been quite durable in their careers, Wood's long distant surgery notwithstanding, and the Cubs will need both of them to pitch consistently and effectively while throwing a lot of pitches in 2004. Based on how they performed in 2003, that's a reasonable expectation.
Adam Dunn hit .215 in 381 at-bats in 2003, which would have placed him second to last in batting average if he'd been able to accumulate enough plate appearances. Despite the low batting average, Dunn did enough other things well that there is a metric placing him in some pretty select company. Dunn hit for plenty of power, drew many walks, and even managed to steal eight bases. Secondary average is a metric that takes all of these into account and shows how well a player performs these "secondary" skills. Dunn's secondary average of .459 would have placed him between Alex Rodriguez and Todd Helton if he had played enough. Dunn had a better secondary average than Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez, Richie Sexson and David Ortiz. Is Dunn actually better than any of those players? Probably not, but it's not quite as large a chasm as Dunn's batting average would lead you to believe.
Jeromy Burnitz hit 31 home runs splitting time between the Mets and Dodgers. Now with the Rockies, Burnitz could hit many more. Although he only accumulated 505 plate appearances last year, Burnitz can realistically reach 600 -- he had over 650 in both 2000 and 2001 and hadn't been below 550 since 1996. Given 20 percent more appearances, Burnitz might hit 20 percent more home runs, bringing his total to 37. Burnitz split 2003 between two stadiums. While Shea Stadium played neutral to hitters in 2003, Dodger Stadium favored pitchers to a large extent. Baseball-Reference.com lists Dodger Stadium having a 93 park factor, on a scale where 100 is completely neutral. Playing in a neutral stadium, Burnitz would be able to add 2.5 home runs, now totaling 38. Coors Field, of course, is anything but a neutral park, favoring hitters as much as any park in the history of baseball. Last year's 111 park factor was the lowest in Colorado's history, but adds another four home runs to the total. Will Jeromy Burnitz hit 42 home runs in 2004? The numbers are certainly in his favor.
The Marlins led the majors with 150 stolen bases, and they won the World Series, so many analysts claim this was a sound strategy. While that may be true, the Marlins also led the majors by being caught 74 times. In the 1980s, Bill James released a study that showed that 67 percent was the approximate percentage needed to maintain effectiveness. Naturally, the 2003 Marlins stole bases at that same 67 percent clip. On the surface, while the stolen bases themselves did not achieve effectiveness, the tangential factors (extra pickoff throws, more fastballs to Derrek Lee and Mike Lowell) support the Marlins' strategy, but in the 1980s, teams only scored approximately 4.25 runs per game, and this number has climbed to as high as five runs in recent years. As more runs are scored, each of a team's allotted 27 outs become that much more valuable. As a result, a higher percentage is needed to maintain effectiveness. In retrospect, the Marlins did not need to steal so many bases, at least if you believe the number James suggested. Naturally, the team with the best stolen base percentage in 2003 was the team that finished second to last in total steals: the Athletics.
Roger Clemens turn 42 next season. Many wonder how much effectiveness he'll maintain at that age, but history is in Clemens' favor. Through 1994, when Nolan Ryan and Charlie Hough completed lengthy careers, more than half of the 40-plus pitchers since the turn of the century who pitched 200 or more innings in a season returned to pitch another 200 inning season, meaning they maintained enough effectiveness to keep pitching regularly over the course of an entire season. Clemens, a notorious health enthusiast and innings-eater, should be a good candidate to pitch 200 innings this season, and he would join comparable pitchers like Tom Seaver and Gaylord Perry with multiple 200 inning seasons after age 40. While it might seem like Clemens could lose effectiveness, as Seaver and Perry did, Clemens has one big factor and one important similar pitcher in his favor. Clemens has maintained a high strikeout rate, striking out 8.08 per nine innings in 2003, slightly below his career rate. Ryan also maintained a high strikeout rate and remained extremely effective as late as age 44. Given the similarities between Ryan and Clemens, the Rocket seems unlikely to show his age much during the 2004 season.
In 1990, Bobby Thigpen smashed the saves record, besting the previous record by a whopping eleven saves. At the time, it seemed as though the record would go higher and higher. It hasn't happened. Though a few players have come close to the record, nobody has saved as many games since. Eric Gagne is obviously one of the best candidates to catch Thigpen. He came close in 2003 with 55 saves. It could be an uphill climb, however, because saves are down across the majors. In 1990, teams averaged 42.8 saves each, and stayed in that range for the next four years. In 1994's strike season, offense exploded, and with the higher number of blowouts, the pro-rated save total fell to 40.2 and hasn't risen above 42.2 since. The last two years have held steady at 40.9. Gagne's 107 saves the last two seasons put him at the front of the pack, and as it turns out, that helps his cause. The total of an average top 10 closer, at 38.0 in 1990, has steadily gone up and been between 39.5 and 43.8 since 1998, including 40.9 in 2003. As overall save totals have gone down, the totals of elite closers have risen, meaning someone might break the record soon. Gagne certainly qualifies as a good candidate.
Brooks Kieschnick is a rare bird. In 2003, Kieschnick pitched in 42 games, and appeared in 27 others, including 21 appearances as a pinch-hitter. Since 1903, there have only been 13 other seasons where a player pitched in 10 or more games and appeared in as many as three games at another position during the same season. As you may have guessed, Babe Ruth's 1919 season with the Red Sox tops the list: he pitched in 17 games and played 111 games in the outfield (and another five at first base). The rest of the list is filled with fairly anonymous players, but two examples stand out. Johnny Cooney was a left-hander with the Braves in the 1920s and pitched almost 800 innings in his career, winning 14 games in 1925, while playing a few games as an outfielder Then, after 1930, Cooney left the majors, returning five years later to take his place as a hitter, batting over .290 three times. Willie Smith pitched in 15 games and played in 118 total for the Angels in 1964. He was a regular the next season as an outfielder, and hit 14 home runs, but then found a role on the bench, playing first base and the outfield, but pitching in only three more games.
Fantasy baseball players and home run lovers alike are salivating over how many home runs might be hit in Hiram-Bithorn Stadium in Puerto Rico this year. The Expos may not have Sammy Sosa or Barry Bonds, but they do have players who have hit for power in their careers, like Carl Everett and Tony Batista, as well as Nick Johnson, who has power potential. The cozy dimensions in Puerto Rico might not even be the biggest factor helping those players: in 2003, Montreal's Olympic Stadium had a higher park factor than all 29 other stadiums, including noted hitters' parks in Kansas City, Arizona, and Colorado. While Hiram-Bithorn's park factor of 123 easily led the majors, Olympic Stadium's 116 finished second, meaning that Expo hitters will benefit in 81 games instead of just the 22 in Puerto Rico. Vinny Castilla put up some monster numbers the first time during his first stay in Colorado, and everyone is making a big deal about his return. If you're looking for a big jump in numbers from somewhere else, perhaps you should consider the Montreal trio.
This offseason, the Mets signed Kazuo Matsui, one of the most high-profile free agents available. While Matsui should provide solid performance from the shortstop position, the Mets have decided to move future star Jose Reyes to second base to accommodate Matsui. This move hurts the Mets, as evidenced by the replacement value of each position. Despite the recent emergence of Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra, shortstops are harder to replace than second basemen. Over the last three years, shortstops have accumulated a .717 OPS, as compared to a .729 mark for second basemen. By moving Reyes to second, he's that much "less superior" compared to the league average than he would be at short. If the Mets had kept Reyes at shortstop and not signed Matsui, they could have made a more serious run at Vladimir Guerrero, or at least come close to replacing the .817 OPS of an average right fielder.
The Phillies will start playing home games this season at Citizens Bank Park. Teams always claim that they want to win a lot of games in the first season at a new ballpark, and the Phillies are in a good position to do exactly that. Historically, however, the new ballpark factor is not as strong as it would seem from comments made by team officials. Clearly, the 1992 Orioles knew what they were doing, rising from 67 wins in 1991 to 89 the following season, while setting all kinds of trends in retro ballpark design. The 2000 Astros, on the other hand, fell from 97 to 72 wins after moving into the erstwhile Enron Field. On the whole, the last 12 teams to move into new ballparks (not including the Mariners, who moved at midseason) have increased from 80.3 wins to 81.7 in the new stadiums, which is clearly not significant. The Phillies have anticipated new revenue from Citizens Bank Park, and raised their payroll a year in advance, winning 86 games last season. Nevertheless, the Phillies seem poised to win more than 86 games in 2004, which would overcome the historical precedent.
Oliver Perez has been touted a top prospect for several years. In terms of strikeout rate, his 2003 season already ranks as historic. By striking out 141 batters in 126.2 innings, Perez struck out 10.02 batters per nine innings. At age 22, Perez struck out batters at a rate that places him on a list of some phenomenal strikeout pitchers. Among seasons with 100 innings pitched, noted strikeout artists Dwight Gooden and Roger Clemens reached that mark only once each. Mike Scott reached that level in his sensational 1986 season. Multiple seasons on the list were performed by pitchers like Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Nolan Ryan, and Sandy Koufax. This bodes quite well for Perez in the future. The most important names on the list, however, might be Mark Davis, Scott Garrelts, and 1987 Ranger teammates Mitch Williams and Bobby Witt. Those players, unlike the stars above, achieved success later in their careers despite mediocre stats in non-strikeout categories. Oliver Perez certainly fits into that category, and, based on his high strikeout rate at such a young age, should have a successful major league career.
The Padres suffered through 98 losses last season, placing them last in the NL West. In fact, the Padres had the worst record in the NL. Fortunately, the current rules provide relief for teams that bad, and the Padres will receive the first pick in the 2004 amateur draft. Should the Padres take a college player or a high school player? Recent wisdom notes that it's easier to project college players because they have longer seasons, and more statistics to measure. They are also older, and closer to the player they will be in the majors. With fewer seasons in the minors, there is less chance to suffer a career-threatening injury. Some teams have taken this to heart, and teams like the Blue Jays, Athletics, and Red Sox have avoided high school players in the early rounds in recent years. The empirical statistics support the wisdom. During the most recent five drafts which have played to conclusion or are close (1992 to 1996), 71 college or junior college players were taken in the first round, and 69 high school players were taken. Of the college players, 35 made an impact in the majors (49 percent). Of the high school players, only 23 made it (33 percent). Adding years in either direction supports the college players, meaning the reasons above are generally valid. Should the Padres take a college player? There's always the chance that Alex Rodriguez or even Kerry Wood inhabits the pool of high schoolers, but based on the numbers, the Padres will have a much better chance that the player they pick will make an impact if he's a collegian.
Barry Bonds had a great season in 2003. How great? Was Bonds the best player in baseball? Was he the most valuable? Bonds was clearly the best from at-bat to at-bat, but despite posting one of the greatest Strat-o-Matic cards in 2003, Bonds simply did not play enough to be more valuable than Albert Pujols. Bonds only played in 130 games, racking up 135 fewer plate appearances than Pujols. Pujols accumulated more Runs Created than Bonds, but we can't end the comparison there, because the Giants were not given automatic outs in those 135 appearances. Due to Bonds' stature, the Giants had only Jeffrey Hammonds and Marvin Benard on the roster to replace him, and neither hit especially well. In all, Giant left fielders finished with a 10.52 mark in Runs Created Per 27 Outs, much lower than Bonds' 15.11. Pujols finished the season at 10.79 slightly higher than the mark of Giant left fielders. In 1943, Ted Williams was clearly the best player in baseball, having won the Triple Crown the previous season. Due to World War II, Williams did not play in a single game in 1944, and received no accolades despite clearly being the best player. He "would have" easily won the MVP award if he'd played more (or at all), just like Barry Bonds "would have" deserved the 2003 MVP if he'd played more.
Not counting reliever Steve Kline, the Cardinals enter 2004 with zero switch-hitters on their roster. When you have hitters like Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, and Edgar Renteria on your roster, details like that shouldn't matter. It didn't matter in 2003, as St. Louis finished second in the NL in runs scored and OPS. Looking at the splits of those four players, perhaps a better platoon situation would have pushed them ahead of Atlanta. Rolen has been pretty consistent, hitting right-handers and lefties about the same, at least for the last three years. But last season, Pujols hit 35 points worse against right-handed pitchers, but he's an aberration, actually hitting better against those same right-handers in his career. Edmonds and Renteria were both over 65 points worse against same-handed pitchers, and their three-year splits are not much better. Sure, it's hard to find someone who will hit even 60 percent of what Pujols hits. Edmonds, on the other hand, turns from a great hitter to merely a good one when he faces a left-handed pitcher. That's before realizing that, knowing the stats, Edmonds might choose to sit against tough lefties. Perhaps the Cardinals should have held on to Eduardo Perez, who hit .353 against lefties last year, instead of letting him leave for Tampa Bay.
David Lipman is a producer for ESPN.com. Click here to send your feedback on ESPN.com's baseball statistical content.
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