Friday, May 12, 2006

Moneyball in Action?
John Williams

Of course simplifying the whole jist of sabremetrics into “offensive walks=good” is silly. That said, what is going on with all the walks this year? The idea for this blog came from watching Red Sox games this year and seeing what appeared to be a pretty uncommon plate discipline exhibited. Five players (Loretta, Lowell, Ramirez, Varitek, and Nixon) in the Red Sox lineup as of May 11th had at least as many walks as strikeouts, a key stat for many very good hitters. And two guys who don’t fit this description, Ortiz and Youkilis, can draw walks with the best of them.

Looking at some more stats though, the Red Sox are doing very well but are hardly anomalous on the year. They rank 2nd in BB/PA in MLB, at 0.119 to the Yankees’ 0.123, so they're not far and away the best in baseball at drawing walks by any stretch of the imagination. Behind the Red Sox are the Reds (0.133), Dodgers (0.107), and A’s (0.102) to round out the top 5 in MLB. What else to these teams have in common? Last year any of them would be leading all of MLB in BB/PA as a team with their numbers from 2006 so far. In terms of BB/K (a great stat for gauging the effectiveness of both pitchers and hitters), 6 teams have higher values than 0.66 BB/K. That number would lead baseball or just about lead baseball the last 4 years (except for 2004 when the Giants’ numbers were slightly aided by Bonds’ video game-esque 232 walks.

So the team walk leaders this year in MLB are better than they have been the previous few years, what does that mean? It probably has more to do with sample size, but it also could have something to do with the “stuff” of opposing pitchers. There have been talks of the balance of power shifting back towards the hitter this year as home run rates are up, but this could be an even more telling effect being seen. Summing up all the walks and strikeouts for pitchers the last 5 years and putting them into the ratio K/BB yields the following graph:

The K/BB rate showed a steady increase for the last few years (in accordance with the general idea of many good young pitchers maturing in MLB) but has dropped off considerably this year thus far. There is just not enough 2006 data so far for the season to make any far reaching conclusions as to whether pitching has actually gotten worse this year or hitting any better. Pitchers often gain control through the year, so we shall see how this year goes. It is fun though to look at the numbers and note that excellent walk rates are powering some of the best offenses in baseball at the current time.



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