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BtB Power Ranking Season Review: NL West

In our final installment of of the BtB Power Rankings posts of 2009 (aside from some possible methodological work I'll do this offseason), we look at the NL West.  Below, W% = true winning percentage, pW% = pythagenpat winning percentage, and cW% = component W% (the basis of these rankings).  All of the data I reference can be found in the final Power Rankings post of 2009.


4. Colorado Rockies.  TQI = 0.572

One of the things I was happiest about this season with respect to the power rankings was how quickly they picked up on the Rockies "Jim Tracy" turnaround.  On June 3rd, just as Hurdle was fired, they were down to 22nd in the rankings.  But on June 17th, they were picked as the NL Wild Card leaders--a spot they held for most of the rest of the season, except near the end of the September, when they actually passed the Dodgers (note, though, that there is no meaningful difference between the Rockies' and Dodgers' TQI estimates).  

In contrast, it wasn't until July 20th that they passed the Giants for the first time in the actual standings.  The Rockies offense and fielding were roughly average--this team was all about its pitching.  Perhaps it's the park factors I'm using, or something balky about my implementation of the stat itself, but tERA rates their staff better than any other in the league by a substantial margin: 3.56 vs. the 3.81 tRA Cubs.  FIP isn't quite so liberal (3.84 FIP ranks 3rd in the league), so I may be overrating them a bit...but I stand by the argument that their pitching staff was one of the best in the league.  And with that pitching staff, they ranked at the top of the National League.

5. Los Angeles Dodgers.  TQI = 0.567

The Dodgers started this season on a tear, and, despite the league adjustment penalty, were the only National League team to ever rank at the top of the power rankings.  They leveled off a bit, but remained dominant all year long.  They were the best balanced NL team of 2009.  They ranked 3rd in the league in wOBA (including all baserunning), 2nd in FIP, 3rd in tERA, and 4th in fielding. Essentially, this was a team that excelled in every aspect of the game.  Their cW% (0.593) is a close match for their actual record (0.586), despite their pW% being a bit higher--we estimated that they were a bit lucky in their number of runs allowed, which counters the degree to which they fell short of their pythagorean record.  Despite ranking behind the Rockies, this, to me, is the best team in the league.  Whether they can beat the Phillies in a best-of-7 playoff series remains to be seen--as I write this, it's 4-2 in the 6th inning, which, if it holds, would tie the series at 2 games each.


19. Arizona Diamondbacks.  TQI = 0.481

cW% has the D-backs as a 0.500+ team, despite their 0.432 record.  pW%'s in between at 0.462. The big factor here was defense--the power rankings estimate 677 runs allowed compared to 745 actual runs allowed (after park adjustments).  That's a mind-bogglingly large difference.  The Diamondbacks were an average to above-average fielding team, so we'd expect their ERA to be at or better than fielding-independent stats.  And yet their ERA was 4.44 compared to a 4.13 FIP and a 3.95 tERA.  Part of that is park effects at the babip-inflating Chase field, as I'm not park-adjusting that ERA number like I did for the other two.  But part of it may just be bad luck.  I like the Diamondbacks to rebound a bit next year.  Not sure if they can unseat the Dodgers, and the Rockies should still be quite good.  But this is a team that could be back in the thick of it if a few things go their way.


23. San Francisco Giants.  TQI = 0.441

Here's the thing.  If you decide to sit down to try to produce a different kind of ranking system, especially one that uses different methodologies that most other systems, you're almost guaranteed that there will be one team that will rank in a vastly different way than most people think it should be ranked.  For these power rankings, the Giants are that team, and I've received no end of crap for it since June.

Let's walk through what is happening here step by step.

Offense.  The Giants' estimated runs scored, based on park adjusted wRC and BPro's EqBRR numbers, come in 40 runs shy of their actual runs scored.  Why?  Much of it is probably timing: the Giants have the second-highest clutch rating at FanGraphs (+29 runs).  As for the rest, I don't know--perhaps "clumping" of hits together that isn't picked up by clutchiness?

Defense.  The Giants' estimated runs allowed, based on tERA and fielding measures (including catchers), comes in 47 runs higher than their actual runs allowed.  Why?  The Giants' tERA was 4.00, almost a full half-run above their team ERA of 3.55.  SFG park factor is 1.01, so let's push their ERA total down to 3.51 in recognition of the park factor.  So we have a half-run difference per nine innings.  That works out to ~80 earned runs per season difference (~86 runs), which is an enormous disparity.  A big part of that is fielding, though--the Giants rate here as the second-best fielding team in the National League at ~34 to 47 runs above average (bUZR = +53 runs, THT = +40 runs, Catching = -6 runs).  The other 39 to 52 run difference, though, remains unexplained.  

You could argue it's my implementation of tERA, but their FIP (as I calculate it, which has a park factor for HR rate) was 3.93, which would amount to only a slight improvement.  And since their HR/Fly% was dead-on league average (11%), xFIP wouldn't be different (though I don't have that number specifically calculated to be sure).  Given all of this, if we're going to be consistent in how we read the numbers, I think the defense simply got lucky by ~45 runs or so.

You can look through their pitchers and see where some of this is coming from.  Matt Cain had a fine season, for example, but his FIP (3.86) and xFIP (4.26) were much higher than his sparkly ERA (2.89).  Similar things occur when you look at top relievers Brandon Medders (3.01 ERA vs. 3.91 FIP & 4.39 xFIP), Jeremy Affeldt (1.73 ERA vs. 3.50 FIP & 3.54 xFIP), and Justin Miller (3.18 ERA vs. 4.86 FIP & 5.04 xFIP).  Most observers, looking at those numbers, would think that those pitchers got a bit lucky this season.  What we're seeing, I think, is the summed "luckiness" of those pitchers, which pushes the overall team defense numbers to look "lucky."

Given our estimates of runs scored and runs allowed, we get an expected component W% of 0.470.  That's obviously a far cry from their pW% of 0.533, much less their actual W% of 0.543.  But the reason is apparent "luckiness" (timing, clutchiness, or what have you) on both offense and defense.  Based on these numbers, this Giants team may have overachieved by something like 12 wins (plus or minus a few).  Add to that our league adjustments (which are applied in the same way to all NL teams, and are based, in part, on interleague records), and you have fodder for a lot of outraged Giants fans.


27. San Diego Padres

The Padres had another positively forgettable season, which ended in the ouster of their GM.  Even after park adjustments for the extreme PetCo field, the Padres offense ranked as below average, while their fielding and pitching were both somewhere between slightly to comfortably below average.  Their actual W% (0.463) is higher than their pW% (0.427) and cW% (0.412), indicating that as bad as it was over the course of the season, they probably got a bit lucky to perform as well as they did.  They ranked near or at the bottom of the rankings all season long, and only the late-season falls of the Nationals, Astros, and Pirates kept them out of the cellar on the season.


Well, that's it for the 2009 power rankings.  We're planning to do this again next year, hopefully with more careful strength of schedule adjustments among other incremental improvements.  Hope you found these an interesting, alternative way to look at team performance this season.

BtB Power Rankings 2009 End of Season Data

Team by Team reviews: AL East | AL Central | AL West | NL East | NL Central | NL West