Sabermetric Dream Team
The odd contour of the Astros' team statistics has gotten some media play. You know what I mean. The fact that the Astros' offense has the worst strike out rate and batting average in the league, but hit the most home runs...and have been at or near the top of the league in W/L percentage for most of the season. Watching the MLB Network, this is extremely perplexing to a few of the "experts" that appear on the show. I can almost hear that 1960s phrase, "Does Not Compute," coming from their mouths. There is a tendency to view the Astros' fast start as a "fluke" or "aberration." I can understand why people will say that the Astros are outperforming their run differential somewhat--the Pythagorean formula says that the Astros should have the second best record in the AL, instead of the best record. But it's wrong to act like there are no reasons why the Astros are winning, as if it's smoke and mirrors. David Pinto at Baseball Musings has this explanation ("ignoring batting average"), calling the Astros a "sabermetric dream team."
The Houston Astros continue to ignore their team batting average. The team currently sports a .230/.303/.418 slash line, the .230 BA the lowest in the American League. That shouldn't be a surprise, since their strikeout total of 343 (9.3 per game) is the highest in the league. More strikeouts lead to fewer balls in play, and fewer balls in play leads to fewer hits.
The Astros, however, continue to do other this well on offense. They have drawn 126 walks, fourth most in the AL. The big stat, however, is their home runs. With three more Saturday night in their 6-5 win against the Blue Jays, they now own 55 HR on the season, nine more than the second place Yankees. So by doing things other than collect hits well, the Astros manage to be middle of the pack in terms of runs scored per game.
On the pitching side, the Astros have allowed one of the lowest batting averages in the AL. They reinforce that by allowing the fewest walks, for the lowest OBP allowed, .288. So while opponents are beating the Astros in batting average .233 to .230, Houston handily wins the OBP contest .303 to .288. The Astros do a good job of keeping the ball in the park as well, so the slugging race is theirs too at .413 to .377. The Astros are putting more batters on base, and using power to drive them around the bases further than their opponents. That leads to outscoring the opposition by 21 runs, and with a little luck, three more wins than expected.
The Astros management understands the strengths and weaknesses of their team, and put together the pieces to maximize the ability of this group to produce wins. They may not hold up all year, but right now, they are a sabermetric dream team.
This was written several days ago, but if anything the thesis is even stronger (for example, the Astros now have 62 HRs and are third in BB%). And do you know what this explanation sounds like? Rob Neyer's "Beane Count." Fifteen years years ago Neyer noticed that the A's seemed to be succeeding with a team designed quite differently than other MLB teams. Before the Moneyball book even was written, Neyer devised a simple metric for A's GM Billy Beane's strategy, calling it the "Beane Count."
The Beane Count for each team is calculated by summing the team's league ranking in HRs, BBs, HRs allowed, and BBs allowed. ESPN maintains an updated Beane Count here, with a lower number signifying a higher ranking. The Astros have the best Beane Count in the AL by a wide margin--the Astros with 8, compared to the second ranked Yankees with 21. The NL's best ranking is 12 (Nationals).
OK, the Astros probably won't win 104 games, their current pace. Regression is a harsh mistress. But it's fun to see that Baseball Prospectus projects 62% playoff odds (38% division, 24% wild card) and Fangraphs projects 59.7% playoff odds (41% division and 19% wild card).
Back to Baseball Musings. The web site maintains a Cy Young Award tracker, which uses two different formulas to project the Cy Young Award winner. Tango created one of the formulas and Bill James created the other; you can check out the tracker to see the components of the formulas. Dallas Keuchel is pacing the pitcher pack in both formulas. Keuchel's first place margin is largest with James' formula.
The New York Daily News recently wrote about Keuchel's pitching coach, Brent Strom. With the success of the Astros' pitchng staff, Strom is getting more media attention (deservedly). Strom, who was the second pitcher to get TJ surgery, stresses that he wants his pitchers to have good mechanics, which he believes can curb the liklihood of requiring elbow surgery later.
With the amateur draft approaching, Evan Drellich shines some light on one of the Astros scouts. His article interviews Astros scout John Martin, who was responsible for recommending both Preston Tucker and Lance McCullers, whom debuted this year for the major league team. Martin has stayed in touch with both players, and is understandably proud of their progress. It's a good read, but I'll pick a couple of nuggets to highlight.
Some scouts knocked Tucker before the draft for having a supposed "bad body." Martin notes that Tucker doesn't have the prototypical "look." But he points out that Tucker scored high on a baseball agility test in high school, and he took good routes to the ball as a college outfielder. Tucker hit his first ML HR yesterday. Martin said, "hitters hit, and he has always hit."
Martin said that some scouts pegged McCullers as a future reliever because of his 6 foot height. If a scout liked him, they wrote down 6-1, and if he didn't like him, he would write down 5-11, Martin quipped. Martin said he was sold on McCullers after a home visit. He liked the youngster's baseball intelligence and knowledge of pitching.
Let's hope that all of the Astros' scouts will be as successful in the next draft as Martin was with those two draft picks.