Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
In a winner-take-all game like the Wild Card, deserving players might be pushed to the background ahead of the game in favor of the pitching, but the matchup between pitchers will likely be the difference between the team that keeps playing and the team whose season is over. For those watching the Cubs take on the Pirates, they will witness one of the very best pitching matchups the playoffs have ever seen.
In Jake Arrieta and Gerrit Cole, both teams will feature bona fide aces. Arrieta might have just had the best half-season of all time. Overall, he’s pitched 229 innings with an ERA of 1.77 and a FIP of 2.35, giving Arrieta a 45 ERA- and a 60 FIP- over the full season after league and park are taken into account. He’s in pretty rare company. Consider: since the end of World War II, these are the qualified pitchers with an ERA- below 50 and a FIP- below 65 over a full season.
Greatest Combination of FIP and ERA in History
Name Season Team IP ERA FIP WAR ERA- FIP-
Pedro Martinez 1999 Red Sox 213.1 2.07 1.39 11.6 42 31
Roger Clemens 1997 Blue Jays 264 2.05 2.25 10.7 45 50
Pedro Martinez 2000 Red Sox 217 1.74 2.17 9.4 35 48
Ron Guidry 1978 Yankees 273.2 1.74 2.19 9.1 47 58
Dwight Gooden 1985 Mets 276.2 1.53 2.13 8.9 44 58
Bob Gibson 1968 Cardinals 304.2 1.12 1.75 8.6 38 64
Zack Greinke 2009 Royals 229.1 2.16 2.33 8.6 48 54
Pedro Martinez 1997 Expos 241.1 1.9 2.39 8.5 45 57
Roger Clemens 1990 Red Sox 228.1 1.93 2.18 8.2 47 55
Greg Maddux 1995 Braves 209.2 1.63 2.26 7.9 39 52
Greg Maddux 1994 Braves 202 1.56 2.39 7.4 37 54
Pedro Martinez 2003 Red Sox 186.2 2.22 2.21 7.4 48 51
Jake Arrieta 2015 Cubs 229 1.77 2.35 7.3 45 60
Pedro Martinez 2002 Red Sox 199.1 2.26 2.24 7.3 50 54
Randy Johnson 1997 Mariners 213 2.28 2.82 7 50 62
The only pitcher with better context neutral numbers in both ERA and FIP and more innings was Dwight Gooden in his amazing 1985 season. It is easy to see why so much attention has been given to Jake Arrieta this season and in this matchup, but the Pittsburgh Pirates’s Gerrit Cole has had an excellent season of his own. Cole’s 5.4 WAR is fifth in the National and ninth in Major League Baseball. Pitchers don’t choose their opposition, leaving great matchups more to a question of chance than a complete reflection of their own skill, but the high level of both players heading into this game is something rarely seen in a game of this magnitude.
A one-game playoff has been an incredibly rare event in MLB history. The advent of the Wild Card has created generally more playoff teams and more possibilities for ties at the end of the regular season, and the introduction of the Wild Card Playoff Game in 2012 has guaranteed a one-game playoff in each league every year. The games this season will be the 18th and 19th winner-take-all one-game playoffs in baseball history, the first having taken place in 1948 and the second not occurring until the New York Yankees played the Boston Red Sox after the 1978 season. Many remember the 1951 game between the Dodgers and Giants and Bobby Thomson‘s home run, but that game was actually the final game of a three-game series, which the National League used for the last time in 1962, again while featuring the Dodgers and Giants.
While quantifying which pitching matchup among these games is a very difficult task, the simplest solution is perhaps to look at single-season WAR as a measure of how well the two pitchers were doing during the year. Very good pitchers who were injured for much of the year, like Johnny Cueto in 2013, will not fare well this way, but overall this seems to be a reasonable method. If we take only the average of the two pitchers, we come up with the following the chart.
Best Pitching Matchups in One-Game Playoffs
Year Event Matchup Player WAR Player WAR Winner AVG WAR
1995 Tie-breaker Angels v Mariners Mark Langston 4.1 Randy Johnson 9.5 Mariners 6.8
2015 NLWC Cubs v Pirates Jake Arrieta 7.3 Gerrit Cole 5.4 6.4
1978 Tie-breaker Yankees v Red Sox Ron Guidry 9.1 Mike Torrez 3.3 Yankees 6.2
2014 ALWC A’s v Royals Jon Lester 5.5 James Shields 3.3 Royals 4.4
2015 ALWC Astros v Yankees Dallas Keuchel 6.1 Masahiro Tanaka 2.2 4.2
While taking the average seems like a good idea, we have several games with great disparities between the two starters. Randy Johnson and Mark Langston carry the top spot due principally to Johnson’s 9.5 WAR in 1995. As a result, like Dan Szymborski did in his piece on the greatest one-two rotation punch in history, I took the geometric mean ((WAR1*WAR2)^.5) to lessen the influence of one truly great pitcher. Switching to the geometric mean pushes Arrieta/Cole over the top. Below is a complete graph of the top one-game playoff matchups.
While the Arrieta/Cole matchup is clearly impressive and historic, teams playing in a one-game playoff generally had to fight just to get to the playoff. Otherwise, they would not have ended in a tie to begin with, and this ends up with teams unable to set their best starters in these games. Expanding the field a bit can provide this duo more competition.
Adding all winner-take-all games — Game 7s in the World Series, Game 5s in the Division Series, etc. — we can compare this matchup to every game in which both teams were confined to a win-or-go-home scenario. Including the two games about to be played, there are 108 pitching matchups to examine. Using the geometric mean once again, we come up with the following table featuring the top-10 such games.
Best Pitching Match-ups in Winner-Take-All Playoffs
Year Event Matchup Player WAR Player WAR Winner AVG GEOMEAN
2001 NLDS Cardinals v Dbacks Matt Morris 6.1 Curt Schilling 7.2 Dbacks 6.7 6.6
1965 World Series Dodgers v Twins Sandy Koufax 10 Jim Kaat 4.3 Dodgers 7.2 6.6
2001 World Series Yankees v Dbacks Roger Clemens 5.6 Curt Schilling 7.2 Dbacks 6.4 6.3
2011 NLDS Cardinals v Phillies Chris Carpenter 4.8 Roy Halladay 8.3 Cardinals 6.6 6.3
1985 World Series Cardinals v Royals John Tudor 6.4 Bret Saberhagen 6.2 Royals 6.3 6.3
2015 NLWC Cubs v Pirates Jake Arrieta 7.3 Gerrit Cole 5.4 6.4 6.3
1995 Tie-breaker Angels v Mariners Mark Langston 4.1 Randy Johnson 9.5 Mariners 6.8 6.2
2003 ALCS Red Sox v Yankees Pedro Martinez 7.4 Roger Clemens 4.5 Yankees 6.0 5.8
2003 ALDS Red Sox v A’s Pedro Martinez 7.4 Barry Zito 4.4 Red Sox 5.9 5.7
2001 ALDS A’s v Yankees Mark Mulder 5.7 Roger Clemens 5.6 Yankees 5.7 5.6
Matt Morris facing off against Curt Schilling is a surprising result mainly due to Morris’ presence, but Morris was once one of the better pitchers in the game. After a nearly five-win rookie season in 1997, Morris suffered shoulder and elbow injuries, missing 1999 and much of 2000 due to recovery from Tommy John surgery. Morris came back strong in 2000 and 2001 before diminished velocity turned him into an innings-eater for the remainder of his career. In the Diamondbacks-Cardinals series in 2001, Morris went toe-to-toe with Schilling in Game 1 of the series, losing 1-0. The Cardinals almost ended the Diamondbacks’ dream playoff run before it could get started as Morris and Schilling again dueled, this time in Game 5 for the series win. Morris and Schilling each gave up one run on solo home runs, but the Diamondbacks scored in the bottom of the ninth off the Cardinals bullpen for the walkoff win.
The Arrieta-Cole matchup still sits comfortably in the top ten of dueling aces in winner-take-all games. Arrieta does have the edge in the matchup between the two pitchers, but the team with the better pitcher does not always win. In the 75 games in which one pitcher had at least a one-win WAR advantage, the better pitcher’s team posted a 44-31 record. It is probably a little unfair that a 97-win team and a 98-win team have to face off in a one-game playoff just to make the Division Series, but it has produced one of the greatest pitching matchups of all time.
Matt Williams and What We Don’t Know.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
It’s often said we like numbers here at FanGraphs — and that’s true, as far as it helps us understand the game better. But managers are one aspect of the game that have, to date, defied attempts at being quantified. Matt Williams put together a 179-145 record during his two seasons in Washington. That’s a winning percentage of .553, which comes out to a 90-win average. That’s pretty good! Matt Williams must be a good manager, then. The thing is, and you probably know this if you read FanGraphs, those are team stats, and ascribing them to one person, even if that person is ostensibly in charge of the team, is probably a mistake. There’s a lot more that goes into a winning team than the manager, a fact that was underlined today by the Nationals’ actions, and I suspect will be underlined again by Williams not being snatched up by another team any time soon.
I said earlier that Williams’ firing wasn’t a surprise, and it wasn’t because of a few things. Locally, Williams’ bullpen management has come under fire, as has his handling of the clubhouse. Nationally, the big stories were the Nationals’ loss of the division to an upstart Mets team that didn’t reach 90 wins until the end of the season and the fight in the dugout between Bryce Harper and Jonathan Papelbon. That is warmed over territory so I won’t cover it in any great detail other than to say the fight itself seemed to confirm the worst fears about Williams’ handling of the team in the clubhouse. Then the way Williams handled both the fight’s immediate aftermath and the public relations aspect afterwards erased the word “seemed” from the previous sentence. It’s one thing to be good behind closed doors as maybe Williams was (or not), but to appear clueless and indifferent and rigid while your team is exploding on national TV (no pun intended) within 50 feet of where you are standing is another much worse looking thing.
Even with all that, there’s a fair argument to be made that Williams was a passenger on this ship and his jettisoning is perfunctory. In 2014, when the Nationals won 96 games, made the playoffs, and Williams won his Manager of the Year award, the Nationals lost only 417 man games to injury according to Man Games Lost, 20th most in baseball. This season, when they missed the playoffs and Williams lost his job, they lost 1,030 man games to injury, seventh most in baseball. If the Nationals had lost 600 fewer man games to injury like they did last season, would the Nationals have finished behind the Mets and would Williams have lost his job? If the Nationals won more games, then Papelbon probably doesn’t snipe at Harper and probably Harper doesn’t jaw back at him. And on and on.
The Washington Post has covered the Williams angle extensively since the Nationals mid-season fall from first place, and today Chelsea Janes published a list of seven decisions that helped lose Williams his job. It’s instructive, I think, to go over the list a bit. But let’s make it fun! How many of the seven do you think were bullpen decisions?
Before I tell you the answer, though, let’s quickly talk about what Williams did wrong. We know he was structured in his bullpen usage — I’d argue to a fault — though as with all bullpen decisions, it’s difficult to know for sure because we only see one result. It’s not a choose-your-own-adventure book where we can compare outcomes. We further know that reporting has indicated there were problems in the Nationals clubhouse. We also know that there are often problems in many teams’ clubhouses over the course of 162 games, and problems in the clubhouse don’t necessarily signify that the manager has made mistakes, even if that’s what reporting indicates. Terry Francona wrote a book about his time with the Red Sox, during which he won two World Series and was heralded as a managerial savior, and even on those world championship-winning teams there were in-season problems, often ones that sounded rather serious and would have been fodder for big newspaper articles had they got out at the time. And those are the ones Francona was willing to divulge in his book! Presumably there are others, possibly more sensitive examples that he didn’t include.
This isn’t to say Williams did a good job holding the clubhouse together. All indications are that he did not, but just to point out that those are only indications and even with that background we can’t really know what went on. Clubhouses are the responsibility of the manager but are composed of the players. Some players have outsized personalities that even the best managers can have difficulty controlling.
So, back to Janes’ article, which by the way I heartily recommend. How many of Williams seven deadly decisions were bullpen-related? The answer is…
Here they are the seven in summary:
Pulling a starter for the closer in the ninth.
Seventh inning reliever choice.
Not using his closer in a tie game on the road.
Leaving starter in to pitch seventh.
Not using his closer in a tie game on the road.
Asking Anthony Rendon to bunt on a 3-1 pitch in the ninth against the Mets.
Leaving Papelbon in to pitch after he choked Harper.
It’s instructive, I think, and interesting, that a manager as derided as Williams is still being judged (harshly) on his bullpen usage. How many managers refuse to use their closers in tie games on the road? Many, many of them! Further, can you fairly kill a manager for pulling a starter in the ninth and for leaving his starter in to pitch the seventh? Maybe so, but it seems iffy.
None of this is intended as criticism of Janes’ article. I think it’s representative of the Williams zeitgeist, however, and instructive in that, for a manager who apparently everyone despises, most of what we can get on him is that he won’t use his closer in a tie game on the road.
Was firing Williams a good thing for the Nationals? I surely wouldn’t be alone by arguing yes. It further seems that of the sins listed above, many came from the same book, one probably called something like Game Time Decisions for Managers for Dummies. Managing is easier if you can push buttons, and it takes someone more secure than Williams in his decision-making to go against established thinking.
The Nationals face an off-season of turnover as many of their starters are set to be free agents so it makes sense to bring in a new manager, clean break, timing, and all of that. Williams is interesting in that all the known aspects of his situation point to an obvious decision and yet when we dig deeper we discover that we really don’t know very much at all.
CC Sabathia and the Humanity of Athletes.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
“Today I am checking myself into an alcohol rehabilitation center to receive the professional care and assistance needed to treat my disease.
“I love baseball and I love my teammates like brothers, and I am also fully aware that I am leaving at a time when we should all be coming together for one last push toward the World Series. It hurts me deeply to do this now, but I owe it to myself and to my family to get myself right. I want to take control of my disease, and I want to be a better man, father and player.
“I want to thank the New York Yankees organization for their encouragement and understanding. Their support gives me great strength and has allowed me to move forward with this decision with a clear mind.
“As difficult as this decision is to share publicly, I don’t want to run and hide. But for now please respect my family’s need for privacy as we work through this challenge together.
“Being an adult means being accountable. Being a baseball player means that others look up to you. I want my kids — and others who may have become fans of mine over the years — to know that I am not too big of a man to ask for help. I want to hold my head up high, have a full heart and be the type of person again that I can be proud of. And that’s exactly what I am going to do.
“I am looking forward to being out on the field with my team next season playing the game that brings me so much happiness.”
For making this decision, Mr. Sabathia, I’m already proud of you.
As baseball fans, we tend to see players through the lens of what they can do for us. Did they help our team win? Did they provide enjoyable entertainment for us to watch? Did they sign a ball for our kids? Our opinion of them is often directly related to what they’ve done recently to improve our own lives. Our relationship with athletes is mostly selfish. We like them when they decide to play for our team and hate them when they decide to play for someone else, even if that move improves their own lives.
At its core, our relationship with athletes is not really a relationship at all. We fund the machine that pays them extraordinary amounts of money, and because of that, we feel entitled to treat them as if they somehow now belong to us, or should prioritize our desires over their own. When Daniel Murphy dared to take an extra day to help his wife after she gave birth to their child, he was criticized by a portion of the Mets fanbase for choosing his family over his job.
Today, CC Sabathia made a similar choice. At a time when the games matter most, he picked his family over his job. And I think he should be applauded for doing just that.
Sabathia has four children, and he will be their father long after he stops playing baseball. His relationship with his kids will continue for years after his relationship with the public ends, and he chose to get the help he needed to be a better father for the long haul, even though it came at the expense of his professional reputation. That could not have been an easy decision. Waiting another month, doing this away from the public spotlight, would have been easier. Instead, Sabathia chose to take the harder road, take the public criticism, and not delay getting treatment that could give his children a better life with a better dad.
Sabathia chose to be a human being first and a ballplayer second, in a world where so often we pretend that athletes sold their humanity for the right to do their job. Yes, they chose this life, and yes, they are well compensated financially by the machine that we all help fund, but I guarantee you Sabathia didn’t knowingly sign up for this. He didn’t agree to sell his health and physical well being, as well as his relationship with his family, to get to play Major League Baseball. That shouldn’t be part of the cost of the job.
To see Sabathia prioritize himself and his humanity, instead of his identity as a ballplayer, is a decision worth celebrating. I hope he gets the treatment he needs, and goes on to make a full recovery, becoming the father, husband, and person he wants to be.
Already, he’s made a decision that we should be proud of. Already, he’s worth looking up to.
Carlos Correa’s Rookie Season Hints at Greatness.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
You probably didn’t need me to tell you that Carlos Correa’s been really good. This isn’t exactly news. So rather than dwelling on how good Correa is now, I want to consider what his impressive rookie campaign means for his short- and long-term future.
I’ll start off by looking at what he did in his two months in the minor leagues. Correa opened the year at the Double-A level, where he hit an absurd .385/.459/.726 in 29 games before the Astros bumped him up to Triple-A. I wrote about Correa at the time of this promotion, and unsurprisingly, the data had glowing things to say about his long-term outlook. Based on his Double-A performance, the names Mike Trout, Cliff Floyd and Asdrubal Cabrera showed up as statistical comps, putting him in some mighty fine company.
His stay at the Triple-A level was short lived, as the Astros called him up to the show after just 24 games. His .276/.345/.449 showing at the level was a few notches down from his Double-A performance, but still very impressive for a 20-year-old shortstop. Based on his Double- and Triple-A numbers, KATOH pegged him for 19 WAR through age 28, which was tops among players with at least 200 plate appearances in the minors. Before he even stepped on to a big league field, Correa had the statistical track record of a star in the making.
Now, I’ll look at the more important part of Correa’s 2015 campaign: his big league performance. The crux of this exercise revolves around Correa’s statistical comps, which were calculated by way of some weighted Mahalanobis distance calculations. As a warning, the next couple of paragraphs will be strictly about math. If you’re more interested in reading about Carlos Correathan you are in reading about math, feel free to skip ahead to the table of comps.
First, I took every rookie season since 1955 in which a hitter aged 19-21 recorded at least 400 plate appearances. Then, I turned every possible offensive outcome into a rate stat, regressed them for sample size and scaled them to league average. In my distance calculations, I applied weights to each of these rates based on the 2015 wOBA coefficients in order to properly weigh the importance of each component. In simpler terms, I compared Correa’s rookie season to other young players’ seasons by weighing each metric according to its offensive importance.
One tweak, though. While wOBA does a good job of quantifying a hitter’s past performance, it fails to account for some things that fall largely outside of a hitter’s control. Most notably, it does not adjust for BABIP. In other words, it treats all outs equally whether they’re strikeouts, line drives or otherwise, which is less than ideal when trying to predict the future. So, I also threw strikeout rate into the mix. I gave it the same coefficient as walk rate, since my KATOH models revealed that a hitter’s strikeout rate and walk rate in Triple-A have similar predictive power.
Enough technical mumbo-jumbo! Let’s have a look at Correa’s top comps based on my fancy computer math. Here are the players whose rookie campaigns most resembled Correa’s.
Carlos Correa’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Year Name wRC+ WAR Mah Dist
0 2015 Carlos Correa 133 3.4 0.00
1 2011 Eric Hosmer 113 1.0 2.53
2 1977 Eddie Murray 123 3.0 3.79
3 1982 Cal Ripken 116 4.6 4.73
4 1964 Tony Conigliaro 138 1.9 5.41
5 1975 Gary Carter 113 3.2 5.53
6 1989 Ken Griffey Jr. 106 2.5 5.86
7 1990 John Olerud 122 1.4 6.29
8 1976 Jason Thompson 103 1.2 6.35
9 1965 Curt Blefary 145 4.2 7.79
10 1969 Carlos May 140 1.8 8.05
And let’s see how the rest of their careers turned out.
Career Stats for >Carlos Correa’s Mahalanobis Comps
Name wRC+ WAR
Cal Ripken 112 92.5
Ken Griffey Jr. 131 77.7
Eddie Murray 127 72.0
Gary Carter 116 69.4
John Olerud 130 57.3
Jason Thompson 123 27.1
Curt Blefary 117 12.1
Tony Conigliaro 119 11.8
Carlos May 112 9.4
Eric Hosmer* 108 6.1
*Career still in progress.
On the whole, their careers turned out pretty well. Ripken, Griffey, Murray and Carter are all Hall of Famers, while Olerud was one of the best hitters in baseball for a time. Conigliaro might have been right up there too had he not suffered a career-derailing injury at age 22. In a nutshell, Correa is keeping some pretty good company. Here’s a look at these hitters’ career trajectories by cumulative WAR.
There are lines going in every which direction in that last chart. You probably noticed that a few of those lines approached the 10 WAR mark at various points, but other than that, it’s a little hard to grasp what’s going on. So let’s try a simpler graph that doesn’t look so much like spaghetti. The graph below plots the group average and median, along with the group’s 25th and 75th percentiles for each year.
The outlook here is pretty encouraging. This group’s mean bounces between 3 WAR and 5 WAR, with a modest upward trend. A perpetual four-win player pretty darn good. However, it’s those top two lines that should really make you giddy. One out of every four hitters topped the 4.0 WAR mark in just about each season, while at least one eclipsed 7.0 WAR.
Correa had one heck of a rookie campaign, and was a big part of the Astros’ unanticipated run to the playoffs. But most remarkable of all, he did almost all of it as just a 20-year-old. He’s still a baby by baseball standards — and by many non-baseball standards, for that matter. Still, in spite of his youth, he very well might be the most talented player on the field in tonight’s wild card game. He’s already that good; and hitters who are that good at 20 are often great in just a few years’ time.
WHICH MANAGER HAD MOST SUCCESS WITH REVIEW SYSTEM IN 2015?
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The same goes for evaluating managers. We have an idea of the managers who have done a good job; many of them still have games to play. We also have an idea of those who haven’t done a good job -- even up to the point of knowing who has a chance of being fired. The drawback, unfortunately, is that we still don’t have a great way of truly evaluating managers, and so we look to the small amount of data that we do have when we try to gauge their performance. Dave Cameron talked about this in the context of filling out his NL Manager of the Year ballot last year -- here’s a paragraph from that piece relevant to what we’re discussing today:
“Evaluating player performance is tricky enough even with all the amount of information we have about their performance; with managers, we’re basically just guessing. We can speculate about things that we think matter, but we don’t really have much objective data to support these thoughts.”
Dave's right -- we have very little data, and the data that we do have isn't terribly useful for evaluation. That being said, there is one newer area of data with respect to managers that I find interesting, and it lends itself to not only understanding an aspect of performance, but also -- in this year’s case -- serves as a window into the operating style of particular managers.
That data is the result of the fairly new system of manager replay review, and this season of baseball has produced some very interesting results. We already had a post earlier in the season on manager challenges, looking specifically at Kevin Cash, and his rather "unique" style of challenging (not waiting for any sort of video consultation from his coaches/advisors before popping out of the dugout to signal for an official review). That post theorized on a way to rank managers on their challenge ability; this post will go a step further in refining an attempt to do that.
We'll do this a few ways. First, we'll start by looking at successful challenges. This data comes from Baseball Reference, with the site originally ranking managers by challenge success rate, or the percentage of the time managers were correct out of the total number of times they challenged. That actually isn't the best way of looking at this data, however, as an absolute value of how many successes during the season is probably more valuable: since there is no penalty for losing a challenge (other than the loss of a potential opportunity to use the challenge in the future), there shouldn't be any penalty in our ranks for not succeeding with a review.
Think about it another way: challenging unsuccessfully at some point during a game is always better than ending a game without having challenged, as a manager has given their team at least a chance to improve upon their possibility of winning the game (however small that chance might be).
With that said, let's take a look at the number of successes by manager, along with the total number of challenges that they've initiated (represented by the dot). Teams that have had multiple managers in 2015 have been grouped together:
As we can see, Joe Maddon of the Cubs leads the pack, with Lloyd McClendon right behind him. Maddon has also lost a lot of challenges, but again, those don't matter unless a more important challenge-eligible moment in the game arose later on -- which is both rare and difficult to get data for. Total numbers aren't everything, but they mean a lot, especially considering that challenges are underutilized in general: theoretically, it is always better to end a game having challenged than to not have.
On the opposite end of the spectrum we have Brad Ausmus and Matt Williams, who were both stingy with when to challenge and had a low tally of successes. Kevin Cash -- just like when we last checked in -- had the highest overall number of challenges and the lowest success rate, showing that his style of not waiting for any sort of team-led video review before challenging is unique in the major leagues. In a way, Cash should be given credit for understanding that challenges should be used freely, though he should probably employ some sort of dugout video review before challenging in future seasons to increases his chance at success.
Now we're going to add an important element onto these challenge numbers: timing. The concept of clutch is easy to understand, and it impacts every single game we watch: we know intuitively when an important moment in a game has arrived, and players often get a label for being "clutch" for performing in those situations. We keep track of these high leverage moments, and we have data for how important the moments were during every single manager challenge this year. I've averaged them all for each manager to get a sense of who challenged in the most crucial game situations. For background, a rating of 1.00 is a considered a game situation of average importance, with a rating of 2.00 being twice as important to the expected outcome of the game. Take a look:
Here we can see that Ned Yost challenged at the most important moments of games out of all managers: times when the possible change in the expected outcome of games were, on average, at their greatest. A lot of this leaderboard is opportunistic -- a manager must have encountered situations that were important and had a challenge-eligible play occur -- but it still took awareness to know when those moments had arrived. I've also highlighted Joe Maddon to point him out as the leader in our previous graph.
Now we're going to put both of these ideas together, as the true gauge of how well a manager has challenged is not just how often he has succeeded, but how often he has successfully challenged in important situations. To do that, I've simply combined each manager's total challenge successes and clutch rating, then compared them to the league average result for all managers. This gives us the best answer to who the best manager at challenging was during the 2015 season, and frames each manager as a percentage above or below average (100). Here are the results:
We have our answer: Joe Maddon was 43% better than the average manager at successfully challenging during important moments of games. It's difficult to overstate how influential it was for Joe Maddon to be successful at so many challenges; even though he was middle of the pack when it came to how important the moments were when he challenged, the sheer number of overturned calls he had pushed him to the top of the leaderboard.
On the other end, if anyone needed more fuel for the Matt Williams fire, they have it: not only did Williams have among the lowest number of challenges and successes in the majors, he also challenged at relatively inconsequential times. The outcome of the reviews he initiated were not particularly important, and given the rate at which he challenged, he most likely made the poorest use out of the review system.
As said before, a lot of success and failure with the replay system is opportunistic, and one season of challenges is going to be subject to some small sample size problems. However, there are two common traits that successful managers share with respect to replay: they challenge often, and they identify the most important moments to use their challenges. They can't control how often they find themselves in those crucial situations, but they can control how they choose to handle them when they arise. And, while replay is only one part of a huge picture of manager performance, maybe it's not a coincidence that the three best managers above are all headed to the playoffs.
2015 In Time of Possession.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Angels’ PD staff — half of it hired or in new positions since Servais took over — has become used to seeing its unconventional ideas tested. In the Dominican Republic, the Angels started measuring time of possession.
Time of possession is a familiar statistic to fans of other sports. It’s very much unfamiliar to fans of baseball, because baseball is the sport that doesn’t even keep time, so it’s not something you hear about. But, reading that section was all I needed. It put the idea in my head, and there was no getting it out without writing this post. Because of that excerpt, I’ve calculated time of possession for the regular season just gone. One thing’s for sure: you can’t say I didn’t do this.
I didn’t calculate time of possession, directly. I approximated it, using our leaderboards to find total pitch information and average pace. For the hitters and pitchers of each team, I simply multiplied the pitches by the average pace, and that should work well enough to capture time spent hitting or pitching. One thing this leaves out is mid-inning pitching changes. It also leaves out, say, mound meetings and pick-off attempts. The truest measure would be just measuring inning lengths from start to finish, but that would take a while and my method took about a minute and a half so I’m content with going the easy way.
I should also say that, for these purposes, I’m defining “possession” as “on offense,” as opposed to literally being in possession of the ball. This way, a higher number is a better number, in theory. I calculated, for the hitters, hours spent hitting. For the pitchers, I calculated hours spent pitching. Then I subtracted the latter from the former, for one representation of the result, and I also calculated a rate stat, putting time on offense over all time. Both are presented below, sort of.
I know full well there’s a reason this doesn’t get talked about much, and it’s not because no one’s thought of it before. I also know it’s easy enough to imagine how this could be helpful. A team that’s always hitting might wear the opponent down. A team that’s always on defense might itself wear down. Come up with whatever explanations you want. I don’t want to lead anyone to believe this is hugely important, or even a little important! It’s just, here’s information you haven’t seen before, in graph form.
This season in time on offense – time on defense:
It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to see the Blue Jays leading the pack. By this method, combined, they spent nearly a full day more at the plate than in the field. The next-closest team was behind by about six hours. The Jays’ lineup is brutal and almost relentless. It’s offered few breaks, and it’s generated a lot of long innings. Meanwhile, the Jays’ pitching staff had baseball’s fastest average pace, owing in part to Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey. David Price isn’t a fast worker, pitch to pitch, but he negates that by being efficient. And Toronto relievers had the second-fastest pace, so it wasn’t all about the starters.
The Yankees are at the other end, although their difference isn’t as extreme as the Jays’ is. Yankees pitchers had baseball’s slowest average pace, while the lineup came in sixth-fastest. Just right here, that’s indication enough that there’s more than one way to be successful. The Jays led baseball in time of possession, and they’re in the playoffs. The Yankees finished last, and they’re in the playoffs. I warned you this wouldn’t be super important.
But, we’re already here, so we might as well go deeper. The Blue Jays batted for about 21 more hours than they pitched and fielded. Another way of expressing that is that, out of all the Blue Jays baseball this year, they spent just under 54% of it on offense. Very obviously, the average is 50%. We have this information going back to 2008, so now here are the top 10 teams in time of possession as a rate statistic:
Top 10, Time of Possession(%), 2008 – 2015
Team Season Time of Possession% Win%
Blue Jays 2015 53.8% 0.574
Nationals 2014 53.2% 0.593
Athletics 2014 53.1% 0.543
Nationals 2015 52.9% 0.512
Athletics 2013 52.8% 0.593
Phillies 2010 52.7% 0.599
Mariners 2010 52.7% 0.377
Diamondbacks 2012 52.6% 0.500
Phillies 2011 52.6% 0.630
Athletics 2008 52.5% 0.466
Blue Jays win! It might not seem like 54% is extreme, but it’s separated from the average by 2.9 standard deviations. The spread here is very tight, so the Blue Jays win as the team that, relatively speaking, wore its opponent down the most. You can see that most of the teams in here were fairly successful, with a couple exceptions. In one sense, the 2010 Mariners spent a lot of time hitting. In a second, no less accurate sense, the 2010 Mariners spent very little time hitting. The A’s have a big presence here because of their patient lineups. Recent Nationals teams show up because of their fast-working pitchers.
Where there’s a top 10, there’s a bottom 10:
Bottom 10, Time of Possession(%), 2008 – 2015
Team Season Time of Possession% Win%
Astros 2013 46.7% 0.315
Rays 2014 46.9% 0.475
Red Sox 2009 47.3% 0.586
Astros 2010 47.4% 0.469
Astros 2009 47.4% 0.457
Rockies 2012 47.5% 0.395
Blue Jays 2012 47.6% 0.451
Blue Jays 2010 47.6% 0.525
Yankees 2015 47.8% 0.537
Rays 2013 48.0% 0.564
We get a cameo from this year’s Yankees, but the lowest possession rate belongs to the Astros from a few years ago, when they were really really terrible. Four of these 10 teams finished with good records, so again, obviously, there’s not a real strong relationship here. The 2009 Red Sox pitching staff was, shall we say, deliberate, but it clearly wasn’t too detrimental. I wish we didn’t have to live through that era of Red Sox and Yankees baseball, but if that hadn’t happened maybe the newer pace-of-game improvements wouldn’t have happened, so in the end we’re better for the experience. If only we’d known then.
Just to make absolutely sure you don’t make too much of this, here’s the relationship between time of possession(%) and success:
There’s the hint of a relationship, and it’s not nothing, but the points are scattered and the relationship is weak, so it’s not like this is something you’d want to classify as a true team strength or weakness. It’s a trait, to be sure, more extreme for some teams than others, but you’ve got your quick strikers and your slow strikers, your quick workers and your methodical ones. Consider it somewhat a matter of style. That’s probably the best way to put it.
The Blue Jays’ style: control the pace. For the eight years for which we have data, this year’s Blue Jays have the very greatest rate of possession. In the playoffs, now, maybe that will even do something for them.