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Comparing team offenses: Reds vs. Astros

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Fay:

...the Reds are 15th in the NL in batting average at .247. That’s the same average as last year.

"I look at runs more than average," Baker said. "The Astros are hitting higher than us. But we’ve outscored them."

The Reds are 11th in runs. They were 12th last year.

Good on Dusty to evaluate his offense by runs, not batting average.  AVG is correlated to runs scoring, but less so than just about every other offensive rate stat you can find.  The Reds currently rank 13th in the league in runs scored (645 RS), which is indeed ahead of the 15th-ranked Astros (621 RS), as well as the Giants, Padres, and Pirates).  

Nevertheless, raw runs scored aren't the best measure of a team's offense.  There are a number of reasons, but here are a few, along with examples of how addressing those problems provides some alternative looks at the Reds offense.

1. Park effects.  

GABP promotes the long ball, and as a result is a moderate hitters' park.  Patriot's 5-year regressed park factors pegs the GABP at 1.02, which means that runs are inflated by ~2% among players calling Cincinnati home.  The Astros, on the other hand, have a home park factor 0.99, which means that their offensive numbers are deflated by ~1% compared to a neutral park.  If we adjust the runs scored data by those park factors (divide runs by the park factors), the Reds' lead over the Astros shrinks to just 5 runs: 632 vs. 627 runs.  

Because of their regression to the mean, Patriot's park factors are among the most conservative such factors that you'll find...

2. Number of games played.

This is pretty simple.  The Reds have played 1 more game than the Astros.  Both teams score just over 4 runs per game.  So, given this, you'd expect the Reds to have ~4 more runs than the Astros.  This, plus the park effects above, would rank the Reds and Astros offenses as almost exactly equal.

3. Timing

There's no question that, when it comes to scoring runs, timing matters.  A single with the bases loaded is worth a heck of a lot more to a team's run scored tally than a single with no one on base.  The problem is that whether hits with runners on is a repeatable skill--studies have shown that it is (clutch does exist!), it's just that the effect size is very small: the best clutch players will have a 5-point advantage in wOBA or OBP over the average player.

As a result, in many cases we like to look at context-neutral offensive stats.  There are a number to choose from, but my personal favorite is the one I calculate for Beyond the Boxscore: I estimate runs scored based on linear weights of offensive events (wRC at fangraphs) and baserunning stats from Baseball Prospectus (EqBRR).  Based on this measure, after park corrections, through Sunday's games, the Reds trail the Astros 634 runs to 606 runs. Why?  Despite their park disadvantage, the Astros rank ahead of the Reds in AVG, OBP, and SLG, as well as baserunning (0 RAA for Astros vs. 9 runs below average for the Reds).  The Reds have just been a bit "lucky" in terms of how their offensive events have translated into runs, whereas the Astros have been a tad "unlucky."

The games disparity mentioned above still applies, so you can convert those totals to a rate stat.  I prefer wOBA, which has the Reds trailing the Astros 0.319 vs. 0.309 (wOBA uses the same scale as OBP, but properly weights all offensive events--in this case, I'm even including EqBRR baserunning).  The Reds rank ahead of only San Francisco by wOBA.

Another look at this is OPS+ at Baseball Reference.  It has the Reds 15th in the league with an OPS+ of 83, while the Astros are 11th with an OPS+ of 91.  Same story.  The Reds offense this year has been lousy.  We all know that, of course.  But if you just look at actual run scored totals, you won't quite grasp how much of a problem it has been.