Football Sabermetrics: Ben’s “WAR”

Somebody jokingly asked me today, “What’s Ben’s WAR?” (that’s Roethlisberger). I knew that there are saber-type stats for football, but I haven’t looked into them much.

My interest in football has declined abundantly over the last ten years and is now at an all-time low. But, in another lifetime (1980), I did have a football scholarship to Georgia Tech. So, I know at least a little bit about the game – though it is almost unrecognizable as the game I played 35 years ago – and that, combined with the sarcasm of the “Ben’s WAR” question moved to do a little research. I very little.

I didn’t find any “Wins Above Replacement” stats for football, but a search of NFL quarterbacks did lead to a surprise. Well, it was a surprise to me, since I don’t follow the game much.

Ben Roethlisberger is sixth among NFL quarterbacks in “Win Probability Added,” with a WPA of 1.23. Given the Steelers loss to formerly winless Tampa Bay, their 10 offensive points against winless Jacksonville, and the local complaints about their play, I had expected Roethlisberger to be in the bottom half of NFL quarterbacks. Maybe he is. As I said, I don’t follow football much and I don’t know much about the football saber-stuff. But I did find Ben’s stats interesting. He also ranks 12th among NFL quarterbacks in “Expected Points Added,” with a score of 31.1.

Take it for what you might think it’s worth.

Martin, Liriano POLL

Russell Martin’s Free Agency: The WAR-Based Approach

Three catchers, who are comparable to Russell Martin, have signed free agent contracts in the past two off-seasons: Yadier Molina, Miguel Montero, and Brain McCann.

Martin is now 31 years-old.

Molina was 30 when he signed a 5-year, $75 million contract which paid him at a rate of about $3.22 million per WAR per year. (WAR weighted for each of the three previous seasons).

Montero was 29 when he signed a 5-year, $60 million contract, which pays him at about $3.35 million per WAR.

McCann was also 29 when he signed a 5-year, $85 million contract. That deal pays him at about $6.44 million per WAR.

At the Molina rate, Martin would get $13.1 million per year.

At the Montero rate, Martin would make $13.7 million per year.

The McCann rate puts Martin at a ridiculous $26.2 million per year.

The average of the rates is $17.67 million.

The Pirates should extend the $15 million Qualifying Offer to Martin, alongside an offer of 3 years and $40 million. That would pay Martin at the same WAR-rate as Molina and Martin would be the same age (34) at the end of his contract as Molina will be at the end of his contract.

When the Dodgers, Rangers, White Sox, and/or Tigers offer Martin 4 years and $68 million, the Pirates should gladly thank them for their 2015 first-round draft pick.

How the Pirates Hitters Can Beat Madison Bumgarner

The Pittsburgh Pirates are not a good team for Giants starter Madison Bumgarner to be facing in the National League Wild Card Game.

Bumgarner has a trait in his game (not a flaw) that the Pirates seem well-positioned to exploit – and they may have already done so once this year.

“Wait a minute,” you’re saying. “Sounds like a little wishful thinking from a Pirate fan. Bumgarner has been terrific.”

Yes he has.

“You’re not going to pull that xFIP/ERA trick with Bumgarner,” you say. “This guy’s 2.99 ERA is perfectly backed up by his 2.98 xFIP.”

Yes. It is.

“So what are the Pirates going to ‘exploit’ about a pitcher with 9.08 K/9IP, 1.78 BB/9, and 0.87 HR/9 ?!,” you rightly demand.

Have you considered how Bumgarner has gone about getting all those strikeouts?

His fastball has averaged 92.1mph. He’s far from a soft-tossing lefty, but he is also not a pitcher with dominant velocity. And, yet, he is striking out more than a batter per inning.

“Hmm.” you might say.

Here’s the key: A good portion of Bumgarner’s success has come from his ability to get swings and misses on pitches that he throws outside of the strike zone.

The major league average for “swings at pitches outside of the strike zone” is 31.3%. Bumgarner gets swings on 36.2% of the pitches that he throws outside of the zone. That gives him a big advantage over the league average pitcher. And batters only make contact on Bumgarner’s “non-zone” offerings 63.3% of the time. The major league average is 65.8%.

But the Pirates are fairly well-disposed toward exploiting a pitcher who relies on getting swings and misses on bad pitches. They have some very disciplined hitters – and most of the ones who are not very disciplined still make a lot of contact on pitches at which they should not swing.

Russell Martin swings at only 24.1% of pitches outside the zone, 6.6 points below the league average of 31.3%. His contact rate on those pitches is 63.7%

Andrew McCuthen’s swing rate on bad pitches is 27.7%. His contact rate is 68.5%

Travis Snider has swung at only 26.7% of pitches outside of the zone, with a contact rate of 65.9% – just about the league average of 65.8%.

I would have those three hitters at the top of the batting order. But I don’t expect the Pirates to make that drastic of a change for a one-game playoff.

Of tonight’s likely Pirate starters, Josh Harrison has the worst rate of swinging at pitches outside of the zone; 39.2%. That’s 7.9 points above league average. But his contact rate on those pitches is a very good 71.7%. He could give Bumgarner fits. The Giants hurler could make exactly the pitch he wants to make to Harrison and put it in its precisely planned location – and still see it go for a base-hit, or more.

Jordy Mercer swings at 34.4% of pitches out of the zone, but he is above average at hitting them, with a 68.1% contact rate.

Neil Walker (32.0%) is about league average on swings outside the zone, but his contact rate is even better than Harrison’s at 73.3%.

Gaby Sanchez is also about average on swinging at bad offerings (31.7%), but also has a significantly above average contact rate on those pitches at 69.2%.

The identity of the one Pirate starter who both swings at a lot of pitches outside the zone and also misses a lot of them should come as no surprise. “Most Disciplined Hitter” is not a title that will be won by Starling Marte. He swings at 37.3% of pitches outside the zone and makes contact on only 60.9% of them; 4.9 points below the league average. However, he does appear to have improved greatly in the area of taking bad pitches in the second half of 2014.

And the further good news for the Pirates, is that they pretty well lit up Bumgarner in their only meeting with him this year.

On July 28, Bumgarner only lasted four innings against the Pirates, allowing 5 earned runs on 6 hits, two walks, and a home run by the least selective hitter on the team – Josh Harrison.

And the even better news? In Bumgarner’s only start against the Pirates, he threw 90 pitches and got only four (4) swinging strikes.

Lay off the garbage, Bucs, and you just might light up Madison Bumgarner for the second time this year.


Bet the Cubs to Beat the Cardinals Today

The Pirates have one of the best starting pitchers in Major League Baseball going for them today.

No. Not Jeff Locke, who is starting for the Pirates against the Braves tonight.

The Pirates big advantage, tonight, in their quest to catch the Cardinals for the National League Central Division title comes in the form of “their new Ace,” Cubs starter Jake Arrieta.

Arrieta will be starting for the Cubs tonight, in their game against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field. It has probably gone unnoticed outside of the North Side of Chicago, but Jake Arietta has been one of the best starting pitchers in baseball this year.

Arrieta ranks 8th in the major leagues, with a 2.79 xFIP. And his ERA is even better at 2.65. He has struck out 9.44 per 9 innings, while walking only 2.41/9IP and allowing just 0.3 HR/9IP. His groundball rate is well-above league average at 48.3%.

Arrieta’s numbers are not simply good. They are excellent. And they put the Pirates in good stead to finish the night one-half game behind the Cardinals.

Cardinals starter John Lackey isn’t bad, but he doesn’t come close to Arrieta. He has a 3.46 xFIP, 3.86 ERA, 7.34 K/9IP, 2.02 BB/9, and 1.13 HR/9.

Arrieta has made three starts against the Cardinals this year, posting a 1.76 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, and a 2.34 FIP.

Lackey has pitched against the Cubs one time this year. He threw 6.1 innings, allowing 2 earned runs on 9 hits, 1 walk, and a home run. He struck out 6.

These are Lackey’s numbers in his 9 starts since being acquired by the Cardinals at the trade deadline:

IP: 54

ERA: 4.50

xFIP: 3.83

WHIP: 1.39

K/9: 6.67

BB/9: 1.83

HR/9: 1.50

That does not stack up well against Arrieta’s last 9 games:

IP: 58.2

ERA: 3.37

FIP: 2.53

WHIP: 1.02

K/9: 8.90

BB/9: 2.16

HR/9: 0.46

And Arrieta’s numbers at Wrigley, where tonight’s face-off with the Cardinals is being held, are just as good: 2.93 xFIP, .171 batting average against, 0.82 WHIP.

Bet the Cubs – and the Pirates new ace, Jake Arrieta. Play responsibly.

McCutchen Hits Back After Being Hit

Andrew McCutchen may react angrily when he is hit by a pitch – as he appeared to do last night when he was nailed twice by Brewers starter Matt Garza. But the numbers say that neither being hit nor raising his ire comes close to throwing Andrew off of his game.

McCutchen has been hit 9 times this year. These are the dates when he was hit and his numbers in the game after he was hit.

9/9 vs. Philadelphia: 2-for-4 with a HR and a BB

9/5 vs. Cincinnati: 3-for-5 with 3 singles

8/2 vs. Arizona:  1-for-2 with a BB and a sacrifice fly.

7/22 vs. Los Angeles: 1-for-4 with a double and an RBI.

5/22 vs. Washington:  0-for-4

5/1 vs. Baltimore:  1-for-4 with a double and 2 BB.

In the games after being hit by a pitch, McCutchen’s batting line is .333/.406/.593 — .999 OPS.

We might expect a big performance from him today against the Brewers. But it could be a mere coincidence that he has done well in the 7 previous games that followed his being hit by a pitch.

SABERBUCS Playoff Power Rankings

I am blatantly stealing this idea from Phil Rogers of He wrote an article yesterday at in which he revealed his Playoff Power Rankings, based upon the statistics that he felt were most relevant.

Mr. Rogers and I disagree on which statistics are the best predictors of a team’s playoff performance, but his ideas intrigued and inspired me, so I decided to have a go at my First (and, if anwhere close to accurate) Annual SABERBUCS Playoff Power Rankings.

Mr. Rogers made the excellent point that when one is assessing the playoff chances of any team, second half stats are, logically, and most likely, more meaningful than the full-season stats. What a team did in the first-half may have helped them reach the playoffs, but the first-half ended about 70 games ago. A team’s level of play – and roster – likely has changed over that time. What they are doing now matters a lot more – regarding playoff potential – than what they did from March 31 through the first week of July.

Therefore, I took a look at the second-half, team statistics which best measure overall hitting and pitching; weighted Runs Created Plus, xFIP Minus, and FIP Minus.

Those three stats are all based on an average of 100. wRC+ and FIP- adjust for league and home park, but I believe that xFIP- only adjusts for league. So, since I prefer xFIP to FIP, but still wanted an adjustment for home park, I used the average of each team’s FIP- and xFIP-.

I also needed to convert the xFIP- and FIP- stats to XFIP Plus and FIP Plus in order to make them congruent with the weighted Runs Created Plus stat. A “minus stat” means that the numbers below 100 are better than average. With a “plus stat,” the higher numbers are better.

The conversion was pretty simple. If a team had a 95 FIP-, I turned it into a 105.

I, then, calculated the averages of a team’s wRC+ and xFIP+/FIP+ to come up with that team’s SABERBUCS Playoff Power Ranking. 100 is average and the higher numbers are better.

SABERBUCS PLAYOFF POWER RANKINGS (“SPPR”, listed from worst to best)

12.  Milwaukee Brewers:  wRC+ 88;  xFIP+/FIP+ 99;   SPPR:  93.5

11.  Oakland Athletics:  wRC+ 89;  xFIP+/FIP+ 100;  SPPR: 94.5

10.  St. Louis Cardinals:  wRC+ 98;  xFIP+/FIP+  94;  SPPR: 96

9.    Kansas City Royals:  wRC+ 91;  xFIP+/FIP+ 105;  SPPR:  98

8.    Seattle Mariners:  wRC+ 90;  xFIP+/FIP+  109;  SPPR:  99.5

7.    Los Angeles Angels: wRC+ 99;  xFIP+/FIP+ 105;  SPPR: 102

6.    San Francisco Giants:  wRC+ 111;  xFIP+/FIP+ 97;  SPPR:  104

5.     Detroit Tigers:  wRC+  104;  xFIP+/FIP+ 106.5;  SPPR:  105.3

4.     Baltimore Orioles:  wRC+ 105;  xFIP+/FIP+  108.5;  SPPR:  106.8

3.     Los Angeles Dodgers:  wRC+ 110;  xFIP+/FIP+ 104.5;  SPPR: 107.3

2.     Washington Nationals:  wRC+ 104;  xFIP+/FIP+  111;  SPPR:  107.5

1.     Pittsburgh Pirates:  wRC+ 116;  xFIP+/FIP+  101;  SPPR:  108.5

In 1971, Roberto Clemente led the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 4 games to 3 World Series championship over the Baltimore Orioles.

In 1979, Willie Stargell led the Pirates to a 4-3 World Series Championship over the Baltimore Orioles.

2014 is Andrew McCutchen’s year to do the same.