Red Reporter Gives Back: Don't Be An Idiot (18 Game Capsule #7)

No one's ever gone broke underestimating the American public, but I'll posit a guess that all who are reading this are aware of the amazing and remarkable fact that the Reds hold a 44 - 5 record when Drew Stubbs scores at least one run in a ballgame.

I know that you know this because the factoid is completely inescapable, driven home for me by a recent reference to it by the New York Mets' radio broadcast team last week. And, of course, Marty and Thom and friends seem to shout these numbers at every opportunity.

"Giving back to the community" is a popular turn of phrase in this tortured age, to the point where it's probably devolved into self-parody. I myself have never "given back", although I've donated, volunteered, and taught various things along the way. All that changes now, as I officially give something back as a means of public service. I'm giving back the Drew Stubbs run-scoring phenomenon, and please: no take-backs.

I'll be the first to admit that a 44 - 5 record connected to Stubbs's scoring sounds impressive. Off the cuff, then, here are eight reasons why this fact is less than meaningful.

1) The very nature of scoring a run is largely dependent on someone else. Roughly 20% of Stubbs's runs are self-propelled via the dinger, and he's not otherwise an extra base machine, with his isolated power ranking in the lower half of Reds with any significant playing time. He steals bases, to be sure, but Stubbs scoring runs has been just as much a function of the very good hitters behind him than it has been his own merit.

2) The very nature of scoring a run is largely influential on the outcome of the game. In a league where teams average just over 4 runs a game, and in a league where the spread between the best scoring and worst scoring teams (even before adjusting for park effects) is a little over a run per game, it's quickly evident that each run usually matters. In other words, few runs are meaningless, and every time anybody scores, it's a benefit to the team's likelihood of winning.

3) Drew Stubbs is the worst-hitting regular on the team. That in itself is not a recipe for anything in particular, but in a game where your weakest link shows up and contributes, that bodes well for the overall outcome.

4) The Reds are a good team. They have the 2nd most wins in MLB, simply meaning they tend to win quite a few more games than they lose. Put another way, on the nights when Stubbs scores a run, there's typically a host of other guys doing good things as well.

5) The sample size isn't big enough to be meaningful. I'll touch on this a bit in the next point, but there's a link between positive hitting events and wins, such that the winning percentage when Stubbs scores (somewhere around .900) shouldn't be compared to .500, but something much higher, say .650 or so. There's a famous corollary that any major leaguer can put up any stat line over a 25-game period. I may not know how many standard deviations Stubbs's runs-n-wins combo lies from the statistical mean, but I do know that we ought very much to expect such a correlation over 48 hand-picked games without being all that surprised.

6) All players have a significant offensive split in wins vs. losses. For demonstration purposes, here are the ten Reds with the most plate appearances in 2012:

Player

OPS in wins

OPS in losses

Difference

Zack Cozart

805

570

235

Jay Bruce

980

681

299

Brandon Phillips

878

580

298

Drew Stubbs

823

415

408

Joey Votto

1172

926

246

Ryan Ludwick

931

867

64

Todd Frazier

1006

733

273

Chris Heisey

783

651

132

Ryan Hanigan

880

482

398

Scott Rolen

835

586

249

Team Totals

841

601

240

No question that Stubbs has the most pronounced split on the team, but is it enough to label him an X-Factor, at the expense of anyone else on the team? More importantly, even if it were, is there any particular advice you'd give to Stubbs other than ‘get better'? [completely unrelated side note: several years ago, I had a friend of a friend who was known to watch a baseball game, get insanely aggravated with the ineptitude on the screen, walk to the TV and scream as loud as he could, "Stop Sucking!"]

7) There's an unbreakable connection between the quality of the opposing pitcher on the mound, the number of runs which are scored, and the likelihood of a win. Tying the Reds record when Stubbs scores a run is like quoting the team's wins and losses when a shitty hurler is throwing for the other team.

8) You can craft similar (albeit less extreme) narratives around just about every player in the league.

I'll expand on #8 a bit more in a second, but let's focus on the shape of the overall narrative here for a second. There are statistical bureaus and other number-crunchers who come up with all kinds of arcane minutia all the time, without us assigning any particular weight or importance to them. This particular storyline appears to be Cincinnati-media-driven, and speaks more (in my opinion) to the continuing frustration that those who watch the team share with regards to Drew Stubbs than it does to any newly uncovered baseball truth. Stubbs is indeed frustrating, and I expect there'll be some long conversations in the winter about his place on the roster. In the meantime, don't be an idiot.

Back to #8, I wanted to have some quick fun, so here are four short reports scouting potential playoff opponents, based on a similar rationale to the Stubbs meme. The point here is not the importance of the numbers or the SportsCenter-esque tone, but rather that these players were chosen completely at random and the numbers took all of 15 minutes to uncover. With any time and focus, I could have found even more meaningless illusions. The numbers were accurate as of last Saturday. Enjoy.

  • Much has been made of Washington's will-they-or-won't-they tête-à-tête with pitcher Stephen Strasburg and his oft-discussed innings limit, but perhaps the real player to keep an eye on in anticipation of October is third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. The one-time All-Star is once again failing to match the impressive hitting numbers of 2009 and 2010, but when all is right with Zim, the Nats tend to follow suit. Indeed: Washington holds a 40 - 14 record when Ryan scores at least one run.
  • It's clearly time for Giants' manager Bruce Bochy to take the reins off centerfielder Angel Pagan. Pagan has ably held down both the offensive and defensive duties for San Francisco this season, but where he's had the most impact is on the basepaths. Even though Pagan leads the team in stolen base attempts, his 19 steals this season pales in comparison to his years with the Mets, when it was not uncommon for Pagan to swipe over 30 bags. If you're not yet convinced, consider that the Giants are 14 - 5 in games that Pagan successfully steals a base.
  • As the newest member of the Atlanta Braves, shortstop Paul Janish is just happy to be here, promoted from Cincinnati's farm system right into the thick of a playoff race. Did the Reds give up too soon? As Atlanta marches towards another postseason berth, Janish is being looked on by some as the thin straw that stirs the metaphorical sweet tea that is Braves baseball. Despite Janish's seemingly pedestrian numbers, Atlanta holds a 14 - 6 record when Janish records one or more hits. Don't be surprised if Paul Janish dons a new nickname if this continues. Mr. October, anyone?
  • Pittsburgh insiders continue to whisper that the real MVP of the Pirates' surprising run this season is not Andrew McCutchen, but 1B/OF Garrett Jones. Not only has Jones been rewarded with the ultimate vote in confidence, having seen erstwhile first baseman Casey McGehee shipped out of town, but Jones has over and again proved the front office right. As the race for the final playoff spot tightens, the Bucs will need more of the same clutch play, since they have won 26 of 37 games in which Jones has driven at least one runner in. What he does over the final six weeks will mean the difference between Garrett Jones rockin', and the Pirates heading for Davy Jones's Locker.

**************************************************

2012 Reds, Capsule 7

(All stats, opinions, and waywardness through Thursday's games)

Overview:

Wins/Losses: 10 - 8

Strength of Schedule: .487 (14th most difficult in NL; 28th most difficult in ML) [Prev: .495, 7th most difficult in NL; 21st most difficult in ML]

RPI (ESPN): .516 (3rd best in NL; 7th best in ML)

[Prev: .524, 2nd best in NL; 3rd best in ML]

Cool Standings postseason odds: 97.4% [Prev: 93.3%]

Cool Standings division odds: 83.8% [Prev: 64.9%]

Offense:

  • .272/.327/.458 (AVG/OBP/SLG) for the team, compares to NL average of .252/.312/.392
  • The regulars, as defined by plate appearances: Hanigan, Frazier, Phillips, Cozart, Rolen, Ludwick, Stubbs, Bruce
  • Fully five of eight regulars posted period-long OPS totals greater than 900: Rolen (946), Bruce (1005), Hanigan (1038), Ludwick (1063), and Frazier (1173).
  • The key to a successful stretch of games is having more good guys than bad guys. This period's counter-weights were limited to just two: Phillips (628) and Stubbs (445).
  • Two closely linked outfielders: Jay Bruce hit 11 extra-base hits, drove in 12 runs, and scored 13. Drew Stubbs hit 2 extra-base hits, drove in 3 runners, and crossed the plate five times. How are they linked? Strike-zone control. Bruce walked once and whiffed 22 times, while Stubbs was at 3 and 24. Jay Bruce is proof that success through free-swinging is possible, while Drew Stubbs is a reminder that such success does not lend itself to continuity. The NL average for BB/K is 40%, and the Reds are right there at 39%. Take away the two true patient hitters (Votto + Hanigan), and the Reds fall to 32%. It's not a bad offensive team, but they remain subject to high volatility, and certain players are highly subject to being carved by pitchers who know what they're doing. The caveat here is that Bruce is usually pretty patient, and he may be taking more swings in an attempt to pick up the Votto slack. It's a fine line to walk.
  • Pursuant to the above, Ryan Hanigan recorded over 20% of the team's walks this period.
  • I've been beating the Miguel Cairo drum for awhile, as have others, so in fairness, it's worth pointing out that he put up a 720 OPS over his 29 plate appearances. It's not great, but it's serviceable, so it's an upgrade. This got me thinking back to the season's commencement. Remember that Todd Frazier didn't make the Day 1 25-man roster, and as best as I can tell Miguel Cairo was the only player with any prior experience at first base (apart from Votto, natch). With 77 games started at first prior to 2012, Cairo was the de facto backup. In one sense, this is OK, since: a) Votto is going to play pretty much every day he can; and b) if he can't play the team wasn't precluded from adding someone else who can hit well enough to play there. And sure enough, Votto played until he couldn't, and Frazier picked up most of the available playing time. Nonetheless, and notwithstanding the difficulties in learning a new position on the fly, it's at least a little curious to me that there have been no known discussion as to whether or not Chris Heisey or Xavier Paul can handle the position in a way that approaches mediocre.

Pitching:

  • Team ERA of 3.87, against league average of 3.93.
  • Regression to the mean? Here are some bullpen ERAs over the last 18 games: LeCure, 5.09; Simon, 5.45; Marshall, 6.00; Ondrusek, 7.20; Broxton, 13.64. In an unrelated story, Chapman and Arredondo got the most usage over the last three weeks. I think we all kind of figured that the bullpen wasn't *that* good, so none of this is unsurprising. Some was probably even driven by some BABIP weirdness (Broxton's was .563, for instance).
  • Aroldis Chapman has struck out 47.5% of the batters he's faced. If we could magically maintain Chapman's K rate while increasing his innings to what Johnny Cueto has logged, then project through the end of the year, he'd be on pace for over 400 strikeouts.
  • In aggregate, the five starters posted the following rate: 6.9 K/9 IP, 3.8 K/BB, and 0.9 HR/9 IP. Which is pretty close to how Jordan Zimmermann has pitched this year.
  • On a related topic, the Reds have an outside shot of having all five starting pitchers putting up an ERA+ of 100 or greater (Mike Leake would need to be pretty lights out from here on out). Although I don't know for sure, I would imagine that's never happened before. Intern project?
  • First four periods: Latos's HR/9 IP = 1.7; Last three periods: Latos's HR/9 IP = 0.5. It's generally risky to extrapolate off of just ten starts, but if he's really learned something regarding how to pitch at GABP, there's not a ton separating him and Cueto. That's good.
  • The team's DER continues to tick down, falling from .694 YTD last time in this space to the current .693.

The next 18:

  • 12 games at home, 6 on the road
  • 12 of the 18 against divisional opponents
  • 3 of the 18 against projected 2012 playoff teams
  • .448 average winning percentage (2012) for the teams in the next 18 games.
  • The Reds, as noted a few sections prior, have benefitted from one of the weakest schedules in the bigs, and it's due to get even weaker. This despite playing nine of the next 18 against teams with winning records. The dip in quality comes almost entirely as a result of six games to come with the Astros, who are technically on pace to win 51 games, but even this might be overstated. Since beginning the systematic dismantling of the roster on July 4, Houston has 7 wins and 37 losses. Extrapolated to a full season, that's a 26 win team, perhaps single-handedly destroying the widely held concepts of a "replacement level" team. The Nationals and Rays are living proof that being really, really bad can lead to the most efficient way to turn a franchise around, so perhaps we'll be grateful 4-5 years from now that Houston's no longer an in-division rival. Next year, though, we'll miss those games.
  • Last time in this space, I projected Joey Votto's return. Instead, we saw his name fall off the "qualified player" list on the batting average leaderboard. No more prognostications from me; just get healthy.
  • Rosters expand, which will include in Billy Hamilton the most hyped call-up speculation that I can recall in my lifetime. With the lead that the team currently has, I'm officially indifferent on Hamilton's promotion, but I'm looking forward to a 15 man pitching staff, in the hopes that all the starters and relievers can get some skipped starts and appearances.
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