Hit & Run

It’s a big day here at Futility Central. Those of you who are regular readers of the Hit List may have noticed that last week’s edition weighed in a bit lighter than normal, which is to say that for once it was of manageable length. There’s a reason for that. After two and a half seasons of ever-lengthening weekly roundups, the powers that be at BP have encouraged me to tame the unruly beast and channel my energy into a more traditionally organized (and less HTML-intensive) weekly companion piece. Consider it a 2-for-1 stock split, or maybe the variety-show spinoff.

In any event, the Prospectus Hit & Run debuts today, with a look at some of the trends and tools which help shape the weekly Hit List. In the debut edition, I look at team Support Neutral pitching rankings, the difference between BP’s two flavors of relief stats (Win Expectation above Replacement, Lineup-adjusted and Adjusted Runs Prevented), team records in one- and two-run games and their relationship to the aforementioned reliever stats, hitting streaks, and a piece of reader mail. Here’s a taste:

My customized team WXRL report reveals which bullpens have most of their oars pulling in the right direction. Rather than dissect those rankings in parallel to what we did above, we’ll look at things a bit differently. When Keith Woolner introduced it a few years ago, WXRL pushed another fine stat, Adjusted Runs Prevented, into the shadows. Whereas ARP accounts for the base-out situation in which a reliever inherits runners by treating them equally regardless of inning or relative score, WXRL incorporates leverage and the team’s expected chances of winning into the mix (once again, Derek Jacques has your brush-up). Often the two stats are more or less in agreement, but sometimes they’re not; a team may be doing a decent job of dealing with inherited runners as a whole, but a few high-leverage failures can throw their WXRL out of whack. Here are the teams’ respective rankings (1-30) in both categories:
Team      WXRL  ARP Difference
D'Backs 4 14 10
Tigers 17 25 8
Indians 11 18 7
Brewers 8 15 7
Braves 15 21 6
Pirates 16 22 6
Cardinals 13 19 6
Angels 12 17 5
Astros 23 26 3
White Sox 27 29 2
Phillies 25 27 2
Nationals 7 9 2
Red Sox 1 2 1
Dodgers 5 6 1
Mets 10 11 1
Mariners 3 4 1
Reds 28 28 0
Devil Rays 30 30 0
Twins 6 5 -1
Padres 2 1 -1
Royals 14 12 -2
Rockies 26 23 -3
Marlins 20 16 -4
Athletics 24 20 -4
Orioles 29 23 -6
Rangers 9 3 -6
Blue Jays 18 10 -8
Cubs 22 13 -9
Yankees 19 7 -12
Giants 21 8 -13

For just about half of the teams (14 out of 30), the difference between the two lists is trivial; they’re no further than three spots apart. What the list is saying for the rest is that relative to their overall bullpen performance, the teams at the top have done a better job of rising to the occasion than the ones at the bottom; they’ve especially taken advantage of their high-leverage situations. Note the lead here is held by the Diamondbacks, who are an NL-best 7.4 wins above their third-order projection, and that nine of the top 10 teams—all but the Braves—are ahead of their own third-order projections. At the other end of the scale, we’ve heard plenty about the bullpen failures of the Cubs and Yankees at various times this year, but the Giants? Between the minute-to-minute updates on Barry Bonds, the zombie lineup around him, and the solid but ill-supported rotation (including the fascinating Tim Lincecum), the bullpen has been pretty low on the list of things to pay attention to out by the bay. Then again, there’s a reason Armando Benitez was banished to Florida, and it ain’t the dominance of his replacement, Brad Hennessey.

You can expect a similar assortment of stats, analysis and Simpsons references when the piece rolls around next Tuesday, and of course, the regular Hit List will continue to run on Fridays.

• • •

Speaking of the Simpsons, not only have I already got my ticket for opening night of the long-awaited movie on Friday, but last Sunday we paid a visit to the 42nd Street 7-11, one of a dozen in the country which has been converted into a Kwik-E-Mart as a promotional tie-in. So I picked up a talking beer mug, a couple cans of Buzz Cola, and a box of KrustyO’s (jagged metal prize not included), sampled a toothache-inducing donut, and cursed the failure to stock the Radioactive Man comic and the Dufffman bobblehead (to say nothing of the failure to produced Duff Beer). I resisted the call of the Blue Squishee, the giant PEZ dispensers, the Simpsons lunch box, and a few other items, but I feel sufficiently souvenired up.

The signage in the store was great. The trash can had a price tag, the hot dogs were touted as “rich in bunly goodness and were offered “3 for the price of 3,” and an oversized visage of Grampa Simpson’s friend Jasper Beardley was painted in the freezer in reference to the episode where he takes up residence there. “7 lb bag, Jasper extra,” read the sign. Fun stuff.

• • •

Also at BP recently is an introduction to the forthcoming It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over: the Baseball Prospectus Pennant Race Book and the first look at its cover:

Certainly better looking than the hideous Mind Game cover, at least. As to the contents, quoth editor Steven Goldman:

On August 13, the Baseball Prospectus family will proudly debut our newest book, It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over: the Baseball Prospectus Pennant Race Book. For the first time, we’ve taken our nifty statistical tools and the insights gained from years of studying baseball and applied them to the pennant races of the past. Not only did we get to revisit some of the great players, personalities, and events of the past and look at them from a new vantage point, but in doing so we were able to find new insights about the game of today. As Shakespeare wrote, what’s past is prologue. That’s true even in baseball–you could look it up.

Using a method developed by Clay Davenport that compares the closeness and volatility of each pennant (or divisional) race, we ranked every race in history and wrote about the top 14 on the list, pausing here and there to explore related subjects from the greatest deadline-day trades of all time to what would have happened if Branch Rickey had been the general manager of the Yankees instead of the Dodgers.

Steve goes on to mention a couple of my contributions (Jay Jaffe on the Dodgers race to beat the Braves in 1959 and why a Milwaukee dynasty that had every reason to happen didn’t”) but he leaves out not only my favorite titled chapter of the book (“The Replacement Level Killers,” on teams dragged down because of their failure to adjust their lineups)) but also my chapters on the 1967 race in which the Red Sox beat out the Tigers, White Sox, and Twins (oh my!), and the impact of Triple Crown winner Carl Yastrzemski and other superstars on their teams’ pennant chances. Still, it’s exciting that the book is just a few weeks away from hitting the streets.

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