Calendar Year Leaderboards

Dilip Vishwanat

Who tops the list of best performers in the last 365 days, both at the plate and on the bump?

This past Thursday, on a day in which only 18 of the 30 MLB teams suited up, the Oakland Athletics and New York Yankees attempted to soften the blow for fans upset over the lack of baseball to watch by playing 18 innings. This wasn't a doubleheader, but instead just a marathon-like game that had as many extra innings as regulation innings. Both teams utilized a reliever as a second starter, with the Yankees Adam Warren throwing 6 scoreless innings and the A's Jesse Chavez hurling 5 and 2/3 shutout frames.

Ironically, on the same day as the A's played 9 innings of free baseball, Dave Cameron of Fangraphs published an article titled "The Hidden Juggernaut in Oakland." In the piece, Cameron begins by mentioning a tool he likes to use when analyzing players performances.

"One of my favorite toys here on FanGraphs is the Past Calendar Year split. I like the rolling 365 day line, as it gives us a good view of what a player (or team) has done in the equivalent of the most recent full season they have played."

Cameron goes on to discuss how the Athletics continue to locate market inefficiencies, find methods of utilizing that information to their advantage, and have seen their resulting strategies pan out on the field. He ends the piece with some kind words for the A's.

"There's no "past calendar year" championship to celebrate, but that doesn't mean we can't recognize it anyway. 168 games playing .643 baseball with a shoestring payroll full of guys other teams didn't see much value in. Kudos to the A's front office. They know what they're doing."

So, according to Cameron, who has a major say in deciding what information goes up on Fangraphs as well as how it is presented, when it comes to analysis, looking at the past calendar year can provide some insight not seen when utilizing other time frames. This becomes more evident in the beginning of a season, a time in which much or the analysis performed comes with sample size and randomness disclaimers attached.

In a separate article written on Frangraphs' fantasy adjunct RotoGraphs, Mike Petriello discusses one specific player from the A's calendar year success. Coco Crisp, the man with one of the best names and slickest batting helmets in baseball, it turns out, has been the 16th most valuable player in the last year, just ahead of White Sox outfielder Alex Rios and just behind Red Sox 2nd baseman Dustin Pedroia. The list looks like this:

Name

G

PA

H

HR

R

SB

wRC+

WAR

Mike Trout

164

757

206

36

141

47

162

10.5

Miguel Cabrera

164

724

217

49

126

3

186

8.9

Buster Posey

154

638

189

25

83

1

170

8.2

Robinson Cano

166

722

198

38

99

5

149

7.3

Andrew McCutchen

163

704

198

27

117

23

150

7.2

Carlos Gomez

159

605

161

28

101

44

132

7

Ryan Braun

153

669

188

35

100

23

155

6.8

Adrian Beltre

162

687

205

40

103

0

148

6.7

David Wright

159

679

171

22

84

20

129

6.5

Chase Headley

152

664

156

30

86

12

135

6.3

Yadier Molina

144

590

175

18

65

10

141

6.3

Joe Mauer

151

674

190

13

87

5

147

6.1

Alex Gordon

165

734

210

15

100

9

131

6

Ben Zobrist

163

700

170

16

94

12

136

5.8

Dustin Pedroia

153

672

184

14

93

26

126

5.8

Coco Crisp

131

585

152

18

100

43

140

5.5

Alex Rios

160

666

189

30

100

26

129

5.3

Ian Desmond

135

539

152

24

67

19

139

5.3

Jason Heyward

140

595

138

24

88

12

114

5.1

The list contains mostly names baseball fans would expect to see, except that Crisp's inclusion should raise some eyebrows. Both Petriello and Cameron's articles discuss Crisp and his value, so I won't elaborate further.

Instead, this idea of utilizing the past calendar year's statistics to analyze player contributions, and especially looking for names on those lists that seem surprising got me thinking. Since Petriello basically took the hitters side of this, I decided to analyze starting pitcher performances in the last calendar year. To begin, let's get a sense of the top 20 pitchers in the last 365 days.

Name

IP

K%

BB%

HR/9

HR/FB

ERA

FIP

xFIP

WAR

Felix Hernandez

242

25.30%

4.80%

0.41

6.30%

2.60

2.31

2.76

7.8

Adam Wainwright

224

23.20%

4.20%

0.36

5.30%

2.85

2.34

2.91

6.9

Max Scherzer

207.2

30.70%

6.50%

0.74

8.00%

2.82

2.56

2.97

6.8

Justin Verlander

231.2

25.70%

6.80%

0.70

8.70%

2.91

2.87

3.16

6.8

Yu Darvish

214

31.50%

8.60%

0.71

10.40%

3.41

2.76

2.82

6.7

Cliff Lee

242.2

22.80%

3.30%

0.85

8.70%

2.89

2.89

3.22

6.2

Clayton Kershaw

239.2

25.90%

7.40%

0.49

6.50%

2.22

2.68

3.17

6.1

Doug Fister

212.1

20.60%

4.60%

0.55

8.20%

3.43

3.01

3.30

5.6

Anibal Sanchez

194.1

23.50%

5.70%

0.74

9.00%

3.57

2.94

3.19

5.4

James Shields

243.1

23.80%

5.60%

0.85

10.60%

3.03

3.23

3.28

5.1

Hiroki Kuroda

225.2

19.00%

5.00%

0.80

9.40%

3.07

3.44

3.64

5

Chris Sale

202.2

24.90%

6.40%

0.98

12.90%

3.15

3.39

3.18

4.7

Jordan Zimmermann

213

18.40%

5.00%

0.59

6.60%

2.54

3.18

3.76

4.6

Homer Bailey

218.2

21.90%

5.80%

0.78

9.20%

3.38

3.22

3.46

4.6

Clay Buchholz

193.1

20.10%

7.80%

0.61

7.60%

2.98

3.36

3.77

4.5

Mat Latos

224.1

21.70%

6.70%

0.80

9.50%

2.93

3.37

3.56

4.3

CC Sabathia

202.2

22.40%

4.30%

1.15

13.40%

3.55

3.53

3.23

4.1

Kris Medlen

194

21.60%

5.30%

0.65

8.00%

1.95

3.01

3.36

4

Cole Hamels

213.1

23.40%

6.70%

1.01

11.70%

3.50

3.51

3.43

3.8

Observations:

The first obvious observation from this list of top performing pitchers form the last 365 days is that most fans and pundits alike would expect to see these pitcher listed above. These are big name, ace-like pitchers with fantastic pedigrees, and on whom their teams rely and often pay large sums of money to pitch well nearly every time said pitchers take the mound.

The second observation I made caught my eye quickly, and maybe yours as well. How did Homer Bailey get on this list? When considering top MLB pitchers Bailey doesn't come to mind, neither when narrowing the field to only National League pitchers, and even when shortening the parameters to just the Cincinnati Reds, Bailey barely surfaces as a significant cog. The Reds staff sports two more likely thought of aces in Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos (who comes in at 17th on the above list), but after those two, most fans would consider Aroldis Chapman over Homer Bailey. Still, the numbers don't lie, and for the last year, Homey Bailey has been quite valuable.

The majority of Bailey's recent success derives from his awesome start to 2013. That isn't to say that he didn't pitch well in 2012, but he has thus far accumulated almost as many wins in 2013 in two and half months of starts as he did in the final three and half months of 2012. The only repertoire changes Bailey has made in 2013 have been a greater propensity for throwing his 2-seam fastball and his curveball. Throwing his sinker more may be the cause of Bailey's career high 49.8% groundball rate, combined with a switch from using his slider to his curveball more often may be the reason behind Bailey's career high in K% (24.6%) as well.

Bailey's WHIP is only marginally lower in 2013 from 2012 and other years past, but by getting hitters to hit balls on the ground rather than in the air, he has lowered his HR/FB%, leading to fewer runs allowed, and more success. The Reds have solid infield defenders, all of who currently have positive DRS and UZR/150 numbers in 2013. Pitcher, especially those without elite stuff, must use every advantage given to them, and Bailey seems to be doing just that

The third observation to gleam from this list is Max Scherzer's spot. Scherzer is a dynamic pitcher who especially excels as a strikeout artist, but in the last 365 days he has been just as valuable as teammate Justin Verlander. Scherzer has been filthy this season, and he had a career year in 2012. Unlike Bailey, I expect some regression from Scherzer as he has an abnormally low BABIP of .243 in 2013, after posting the 2nd highest BABIP amongst qualified starting pitchers in 2012. Still, even with some regression, Scherzer a spot on the top 20 pitchers list, even if that placement comes down a few spots.

Never be afraid to analyze the data provided in different manners. Sometimes the results will lead no where, or will tell you only information already known, but other times it leads to observations of interest and conclusions of worth.

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