Are the Pirates Actually 6.5 Games Better than the Cardinals?

Fangraphs has an “expected won-loss record” system that they call BaseRuns. And it provides some good news for Pirate fans.

The system is apparently similar to “run differential” winning-percentage expectation formulas, but it seems to be based upon other advanced statistics such as weighted Runs Created Plus, xFIP, and FIP Minus.

BaseRuns says that the N.L. Central teams have actually played at this level of overall performance:

Pirates:  83-67

Cardinals: 77-74

Cubs:  74-77

Brewers:  74-77

Reds: 69-83

That would put the Pirates 6.5 games ahead of the Cardinals and 9.5 games ahead of both the Brewers and Cubs. The division would be just about clinched for the Pirates.

And there are other advanced statistics which say that the Pirates are the best team in their division.

Weighted Runs Created Plus

Pirates 108

Cardinals 97

Brewers 96

Cubs 88

Reds 83

That puts the Pirates hitting at about 11% better than the Cardinals and 12% better than the Brewers.

xFIP

Brewers 3.68

Cubs 3.69

Reds 3.72

Pirates 3.74

Cardinals 3.77

The difference in xFIPs are negligible and the order could easily change by the end of the season.

And the Pirates have the best run differential in the N.L Central Division.

This is a good team, which is capable of beating anybody in a playoff series.

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Martin and Liriano Could be Brought Back with a Payroll of $90 million.

The Pirates payroll is currently $79 million.

Here is how they could bring back both Francisco Liriano and Russell Martin without raising the payroll any higher than $84 million.

Sign Martin for $17 million per season. I believe that it will take as much per year to sign him as catcher Brian McCann received from the Yankees.

Sign Liriano for $12 million per season.

Non-tender or trade Davis, Sanchez, and Alvarez.

Make Andrew Lambo the first-baseman.

Removing Davis, Sanchez, and Alvarez cuts $10 million from payroll. Not re-signing Volquez cuts another $5 million. And payroll will also be reduced by $7.5 million when Wandy Rodriguez comes off of the books. That’s a total of $22.5 million.

Re-signing Martin at $17 million per year will be an increase of $8.5 million on what he is now making. Liriano’s $12 million per year would be an increase of $6 million.

Under this scheme, the Pirates would cut $22.5 million, add $14 million, and have $8.5 million left for arbitration increases to Walker, Harrison, Watson, Hughes, Melancon, Snider, and Stewart.

McCutchen’s salary increases by $3 million next season. Tabata’s by $1 million. Morton’s by $4 million. And Marte’s by about $500,000.

That would result in an $8.5 million increase in payroll; taking the total to $87.5 million. Figure in an additional $2.5 million for the arbitration eligible players and payroll comes to $90 million.

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Stats, Baseball and the Dollar Bill

In the more than 10 months that I have been operating SABERBUCS, I have posted 304 articles. That’s just about one per day. And I expect to continuing writing, not just through the end of the season, but throughout the off-season. Probably even more so in the off-season.

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Stop Crying about First-Base

Justin Morneau is having a very good year (.844 OPS). It would have been wonderful if Neal Huntington could have known that last November and offered him a contract even more outrageous than the one he signed with the Rockies.

But there was no reason whatsoever to think that Justin Morneau was going to be very good in 2014, or even good, or average, or just slightly below average.

Morneau’s OPS for the three seasons prior to this one were .618, .773, and .734. In his one month with the Pirates, he had a .682 OPS. Ironically, the one thing he did very well with the Pirates was draw walks. He had a 14.1% rate with them; almost as good as Ike Davis’ 15.3% rate.

From 2011 to 2013, Morneau’s WAR was -0.8, +0.2, +0.7.

That means that when the Rockies gave Morneau his 2-year/$12.5 million contract, they were paying him at a rate of about $40 (forty) million per win.

Here is the illustrious list of other first-baseman who were available last off-season and what they are doing this year:

James Loney:  .725 OPS
Garrett Jones:  .715 OPS
Ike Davis:  .711 OPS
Mark Reynolds:  .679 OPS
Lyle Overbay:  .676 OPS
Logan Morrison:  .671 OPS
Mitch Moreland:  .644 OPS
Justin Smoak:  .618 OPS
Kendrys Morales:  .612 OPS
Corey Hart: .595 OPS
Mike Carp:  .519 OPS

Expect Extra-Base Hits Against Cubs Starter Wada

Starting pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada, who will take the mound against the Pirates tonight, has been hit for a .218 Isolated Slugging (ISO) by right-handed hitters this year.

What is “isolated slugging” and why does it matter that Wada’s is .218?

Isolated power is slugging percentage minus batting average and the league average is .143 for right-handed hitters versus left-handed pitchers.

Tsuyoshi Wada’s ISO is 75 points higher than league average . . .  He has been getting pounded with extra-base hits by right-handed hitters – even though his batting average on balls in play against them is 25 points below league average. He has essentially turned the average right-handed hitter into Miguel Cabrera, who has a .206 overall ISO.

Here are the ISOs of Pirate right-handed hitters versus LHP and the Expected ISOs that they would have against Tsuyoshi Wada:

Andrew McCutchen:  .258 /  .393

Gaby Sanchez:  .186  /  .284

Jordy Mercer:  .159  /  .242

Josh Harrison:  .158  /  .240

Starling Marte:  .122  /  .186

Neil Walker:  .105  /  .160

Jose Tabata:  .051  /   .078

Russell Martin:  .015  /  .023

How high is McCutchen’s .394 Expected ISO vs. Tsuyoshi Wada? Babe Ruth’s career ISO was .348.

Wada has been hit for a .760 OPS by right-handed batters. That is 27 points higher than the league average for left-handed pitchers vs. right-handed batters of .733.

Could this evening be “Bombs Away in Pittsburgh, PA?”

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The Cost of Moving Pedro to First-Base

Pedro Alvarez provided the Pirates with 3.1 Wins above Replacement Level last season by hitting 36 home runs with a .770 OPS – and playing league-average defense at third-base.

That last sentence is in italics because it makes a difference – and Pedro Alvarez’s 2014 UZR/150 of -18.6 say that he no longer plays anything close to league-average defense. He has simply lost the ability to make the throw from third to first. And if he must be permanently assigned to first-base, it is going to cost him money and cost the Pirates wins and trade value.

Third-baseman, on average, do not hit as well as first-baseman. So, Alvarez – as a 3B – hitting for a .770 OPS and playing league-average defense is more valuable than Alvarez – as a first-baseman – hitting for a .770 OPS and playing league-average defense. Let’s take a look at the difference.

The MLB average batting line for 3B in 2013 was .259/.322/.411 — .733 OPS. The average for 1B was .261/.336/.436 — .772 OPS. As a 3B, playing league-average defense, Pedro Alvarez was provided a lot of value in 2013. As a 1B, he would have been ordinary.

Therefore, the solution to Pedro’s throwing problems is not as simple as permanently assigning him to first-base. There is a cost involved with that move. The questions are how much; and whether that cost is enough to make it wise for the Pirates to give Pedro plenty of time at 3B to prove that he is a first-basemen.

Here is the math.

Alvarez’s 36 home runs and .770 OPS were worth 3.1 WAR last year as a league-average defensive third-baseman. If he had done the same at 1B, he would have been worth 1.7 wins. That’s a big difference, to both Alvarez and the Pirates.

Alvarez’s free agent value at 3.1 WAR is about $15.5 million per year. Moving to first-base and posting a 1.7 WAR would cost him about $7 million per season, giving him an approximate value of $8.5 million/year when it comes time for him to sign his next contract.

If teams don’t believe that Alvarez can play either 3B or 1B and he ends up as a DH with a .770 OPS, his WAR falls to 1.2. That would give him a free agent value of about $6 million per year. (All, of course, assuming that his hitting rebound from his .717 2014 OPS back to his .770 2013 OPS.)

And, for the Pirates, there is a great difference in the trade value of a third-baseman with a 3.1 WAR and a 1B with a 1.7 WAR or a DH with a 1.2 WAR.

Pedro Alvarez should push hard to be given significant playing time at 3B early next season. And the Pirates should give it to him – while promoting “body armor days” for anybody with the courage to sit on the first-base side at PNC Park.

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