xERA, sluggers wanted, and steroids

I showed everyone a couple of weeks ago how well our southpaw starters have done pitching at PNC Park the last two years with their 32-31 record. That post brought in a wave of email asking for additional analysis for 2008 so that’s what I have for you today.

Team ERA had the best correlation (-0.653) to winning percentage than any mix stat I could find last year (other than the obvious runs scored minus runs allowed which was 0.897), except one..

xERA H – xERA P 0.788
ERA -0.653
OBP 0.615
xERA Hitting 0.562
OPS 0.560
xERA Pitching -0.558
AVE 0.497
SLG 0.464
DER 0.452
# BiP by P -0.318

After computing Dwight Gill’s xERA (ex-scout for the Indians) for team hitting and team pitching for each club, then obtaining the difference between the two, the correlation to winning percentage was nearly 79%, which is very high. Take a look at the end product from 2007:

Win % xERA P xERA H   diff
Red Sox 0.593 3.81 4.97 1.16
Yankees 0.580 4.16 5.21 1.05
Padres 0.546 3.41 4.16 0.75
Brewers 0.512 4.19 4.87 0.68
Mets 0.543 4.12 4.69 0.58
Blue Jays 0.512 3.95 4.40 0.45
Tigers 0.543 4.42 4.86 0.44
Indians 0.593 3.98 4.42 0.44
Rockies 0.552 4.23 4.65 0.42
Athletics 0.469 3.92 4.30 0.38
Cubs 0.525 3.96 4.34 0.37
Phillies 0.549 4.76 5.11 0.35
Angels 0.580 4.03 4.34 0.31
Dodgers 0.506 3.88 4.18 0.30
Braves 0.519 4.23 4.49 0.26
Giants 0.438 3.84 3.98 0.14
Mariners 0.543 4.28 4.36 0.08
Diamondbacks 0.556 4.26 4.30 0.04
Marlins 0.438 4.67 4.65 -0.03
Orioles 0.426 4.35 4.30 -0.05
Rangers 0.463 4.40 4.33 -0.08
Reds 0.444 4.81 4.62 -0.20
Cardinals 0.481 4.43 4.15 -0.29
Twins 0.488 4.47 4.05 -0.42
White Sox 0.444 4.51 4.04 -0.48
Pirates 0.420 4.64 4.11 -0.53
Astros 0.451 4.79 4.25 -0.54
Devil Rays 0.407 4.96 4.37 -0.59
Royals 0.426 4.46 3.69 -0.77
Nationals 0.451 4.66 3.87 -0.79

(Note: read xERA just like you would ERA.. as earned runs per 9 innings in both hitting and pitching. If a team scores an earned run (xERA hitting), the opposing team has to give it up (xERA pitching). Also, rounding might cause some of the figures to seem off).

As you can see, the Pirates were .64 runs per nine innings in the hole from just being an average MLB team (difference of .11 was MLB average). Trying to add two-thirds of a run per nine without a significant roster shakeup is nearly impossible, especially when the rest of the division is producing well ahead of us, so I should just end this right now by telling you to expect a losing season next year.

But let’s press on.

Notice that every single team that had a negative ‘diff’ was a losing club. Ok, you say, that makes sense.. if your not scoring more than your allowing, of course your going to be a losing team. Granted.

Now look at the teams who rely on pitching strength (under 4.00 xERA P) and notice they compliment that with more runs scored than allowed, no matter how low the runs scored is. Every one of them was a winner too except the Giants and A’s, who each had a laundry list of problems.

This is where the Pirates want to belong.. pitching strength – reducing runs allowed with a maturing staff while adding run production through trades or free agent signings. But notice they are .64 runs per nine innings short of even being strong in pitching. That’s a ton, and even harder to make up than manufacturing runs.

So what route should we expect Neal Huntington to go if he is going to try and ward off the infamous 16th consecutive losing season? He has to add bats. The Pirates 4.64 xERA pitching is not going to change that much unless we add some unbelievable relievers in the mix and a top of the order starter.

The 4.11 xERA hitting is simply putrid. Players like Ryan Doumit, Nate McLouth, Nyjer Morgan, Jose Bautista, and even Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen won’t even dent that 4.11. Huntington needs an impact bat and he needs Bay’s production to come back online.

But since we are supposed to be rebuilding..

Who knows what this org’s plans are. One minute they seem to think they can compete in 2008, the next minute they are sending out player profile folders on guys like Bay.

BTW, word at the GM meeting as they broke yesterday was that the Orioles have an interest in Bay but, like every other team they are split on why his production tanked. That might force Bay to remain a Buc for at least part of 2008 unless Huntington agrees to sell him short. After Littlefield sold Oliver Perez short, I doubt we’ll see that happen.

We’ll have to keep listening for hints on players like Sanchez – will Huntington move him back to third – and potential trades. If Huntington is serious about trying to get to .500, we have to add offensive production across the board.

One good thing about having Frank Coonelly as the CEO is that he can probably get the scoop better than anyone on the ‘roids issue. Now talk has it as many as eleven free agents could be on the soon to be released list. You have to wonder if teams are going to wait for that list before sluggers are dealt for.