Luck - noun
a combination of circumstances, events, etc., operating by chance to bring good or ill to a person
As baseball fans, we have a wealth of information at our disposal about any given player at any given time. Essentially, anything you could ever want to know about a player is captured in a statistic in one form or another. Through these statistics we can evaluate a player's production and form an opinion on that player's talent level or value. However, the danger lies in evaluating a player merely on his production and not his performance. Truth be told, there can be a considerable difference between these two words. One might think that a player that performs at a high level would in turn produce at a high level... Not so fast my friend.
Indeed we do have statistical measures that can help us grade a player's performance.. Areas of his game that he has the most control over. I'm talking about his strike out rate, walk rate, line drive rate, fly ball rate etc.. While all of a player's production stats (Avg., R, HR, RBI, SB, OPS) are surely affected by a player's performance, they are also greatly influenced by a player's luck over the course of the season.
Fortunately for us, we have empirical evidence that can quantify a player's "luck" over a 162-game season. With that data, we can attempt to "correct" or "adjust" a player's final stat line by playing out the season as if the player had no luck; good or bad. The main two statistics that I will use in this article are BABIP (Batting average on balls in play) and HR/FB rate. Both of which are luck-driven stats, and both of which can have a serious affect on a player's final stat line if they vary too far away from the player's career norms.
This article will take a look at Vernon Wells performance in Toronto since he signed that mega deal four years ago and adjust his final stat lines by normalizing his BABIP and HR/FB rate over those years. Afterward, we will normalize the Angels 2010 numbers to hopefully give us a better idea of how they truly performed last season; not how they produced.
Like many of you, I play in a couple of pretty competitive fantasy baseball leagues each year. Every manager is constantly looking for a way to get an edge on the competition. One of the results of this competition was the development of a tool that allows the user to plug in a player's final stat line as well as a couple other peripheral stats (BABIP and HR/FB% for hitters) that represent the player's career norms. The tool then re-calculates the players final stat line and produces a stat line that represents the final line of the player had his BABIP and HR/FB% been at a career norm all season, essentially matching his performance to his production. Due to the fact that I have league mates reading this article, that is all I can really say about the tool. On to the results...
First, let's establish Vernon Wells career norms in BABIP and HR/FB%..
For anyone that is unfamiliar with these stats, this means that Vernon Wells is a .288 career hitter in at bats that do not result in a K or HR; and 12% of the flyballs he hits result in home runs.
2007 Peripherals: .262 BABIP, 7.3% HR/FB
Wells pretty much earned the bust label in his first season after the mega deal. A .245 hitter with 16 home runs was nothing short of a disaster. But as you can see above, Vernon's BABIP dropped 25 points off his career norm while his HR/FB rate cut nearly in half. His "skill stats" such as strike out rate, walk rate, line drive rate etc. all remained around career norms; so while his production was abysmal, the numbers say he performed at nearly the same level he did in his monster 2006 season. Bring his BABIP and HR/FB rate back up to his career levels and...
2007 Stat Line: .245, 16 HR, 80 R, 80 RBI, 10 SB, .706 OPS
Adjusted 2007 Stat Line: .281, 27 HR, 104 R, 106 RBI, 11 SB, .831 OPS
2008 Season: .293 BABIP, 14.4% HR/FB
Wells saw his peripherals rebound in 2008 and it showed his power numbers particularly. Unfortunately for Wells, injury cut his season to 108 games. For the purpose of the adjusted 2008 line, I will extrapolate the numbers out as if he played in 155 games that season.
2008 Stat Line: .300, 20 HR, 63 R, 78 RBI, 4 SB, .840 OPS
Adjusted 2008 Stat Line: .282, 24 HR, 83 R, 101 RBI, 6 SB, .774 OPS
2009 Season: .279 BABIP, 6.4% HR/FB
Another season in which Wells saw his HR/FB rate plummet to nearly half his career level. However, Wells line drive rate also came in under his career norm so it is quite possible it was just an off year. Even still, his normalized numbers demonstrate a solid level of performance.
2009 Stat Line: .260, 15 HR, 84 R, 66 RBI, 17 SB, .711 OPS
Adjusted 2009 Stat Line: .286, 27 HR, 96 R, 84 RBI, 17 SB, .822 OPS
2010 Season: .272 BABIP, 14.6% HR/FB
If we are going to cite bad luck as the reason for Wells' lack of production in 2007 and 2009, we have to recognize that Wells got a little lucky with his HR/FB% in 2010, which showed in his 31 home runs. Normalized numbers bring last season down a little bit..
2010 Stat Line: .273, 31 HR, 79 R, 88 RBI, 6 SB, .847 OPS
Adjusted 2010 Stat Line: .275, 25 HR, 74 R, 82 RBI, 6 SB, .823 OPS
RECAP: On paper, the first half of Vernon Wells mega-contract has been a nightmare. It's no wonder many of us are upset with the deal and we were the laughing stock of the league over the weekend. That said, a deeper look at Wells over the last 4 years reveals a guy that has been down on his luck with two seasons of unfortunate peripherals as well as missing 1/3 of a season with an injury. Let's take a look at Wells' average season from '07-'10 in terms of production, and then in terms of performance..
Average 2007-2010 Production (Actuals): .267, 21 HR, 78 R, 78 RBI, 9 SB, .770 OPS
Average 2007-2010 Performance (Adjusted): .281, 26 HR, 89 R, 93 RBI, 10 SB, .813 OPS
I will let you be the judge on whether or not you think a .280-25-90-90-10-.810 guy is worth $20+MM per season. My gut reaction would be "this guy is still over paid".. But as Matt Welch brilliantly pointed out in his recent article, those numbers are eerily similar to Torii Hunter's average season over the course of his career, save a handful of stolen bases. On that note, I've never heard anyone gripe about how Torii Hunter is overpaid. Of course, the difference his Torii Hunter has produced at that level while Vernon Wells has merely performed at that level. Still, Vernon has demonstrated the skills to produce at that level, which is something to be excited about as an Angel fan, in my opinion.
Side note: I have read a lot about Vernon's splits home and away from the Rogers Center. To be honest, I think we are looking too much into that. In 2010, Rogers Center was one of the most homer-happy parks in the majors, while the Big A ranked 23rd. However, the years before that both stadiums ranked within a couple spots of each other so I don't think the park factor will play too much into Wells' production in Anaheim.There could be a variety of reasons Wells hit better at home than on the road. I am more more inclined to believe that the familiarity of the home park, home cookin' and not waking up in a hotel bed play a much larger factor in Wells home/road splits than the stadium itself.
Taking the "Luck" Out of the 2010 Angels
After taking a good luck at Wells I figured I would normalize the 2010 Angels based on their performance rather than their (lack of) production. I don't want to reveal my techniques for normalizing pitchers (for reasons stated in the opening) but it is a very similar process using luck-oriented peripherals. Here we go..
2010 Stat Line: 3.01 ERA, 1.07 WHIP
2010 Adjusted: 3.12 ERA, 1.09 WHIP
2010 Stat Line: 3.91 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
2010 Adjusted: 3.71 ERA, 1.19 WHIP
2010 Stat Line: 3.92 ERA, 1.32 WHIP
2010 Adjusted: 4.28 ERA, 1.35 WHIP
2010 Stat Line: 3.84 ERA, 1.24 WHIP
2010 Adjusted: 3.68 ERA, 1.24 WHIP
2010 Stat Line: 5.94 ERA, 1.58 WHIP
2010 Adjusted: 4.78 ERA, 1.63 WHIP
ROTATION RECAP: It's nice to see that Weaver's breakout campaign was no fluke. Weaver did indeed dominate like a true ace, with no luck necessary en route to a 3 ERA and a strike out crown. Haren and Pineiro had a lot of batted balls find holes which drove up their WHIP and/or ERA, but you can say the opposite for Ervin who had some luck on his side last year. Kazmir's proneness to the gopher ball spiked his ERA by over a run, but in all honesty I can't attribute that to bad luck. When you are constantly behind in the count, big league hitters are going to tee-off.
Due to such much turnover in the bullpen I will not include them in this article.. On to the lineup (I didn't really focus on the batting order, just wanted to show the data)..
2010 Stat Line: .253, 5 HR, 69 R, 29 RBI, 22 SB, .636 OPS
2010 Adjusted Line: .267, 5 HR, 81 R, 34 RBI, 26 SB, .647 OPS
2010 Stat Line: .255, 20 HR, 88 R, 78 RBI, 24 SB, .787 OPS
2010 Adjusted Line: .290, 22 HR, 96 R, 91 RBI, 26 SB, .870 OPS
2010 Stat Line: .281, 23 HR, 76 R, 90 RBI, 9 SB, .818 OPS
2010 Adjusted Line: .276, 25 HR, 78 R, 92 RBI, 9 SB, .808 OPS
Kendry Morales (adjusted to 155 games)
2010 Stat Line: .290, 11 HR, 29 R, 39 RBI, 0 SB, .833 OPS
2010 Adjusted Line: .283, 28 HR, 83 R, 110 RBI, 0 SB, .787 OPS
2010 Stat Line: .279, 10 HR, 67 R, 75 RBI, 14 SB, .720 OPS
2010 Adjusted Line: .298, 10 HR, 70 R, 79 RBI, 15 SB, .754 OPS
2010 Stat Line: .265, 10 HR, 61 R, 56 RBI, 5 SB, .676 OPS
2010 Adjusted Line: .280, 10 HR, 67 R, 63 RBI, 6 SB, .706 OPS
Peter Bourjos (adjusted to 155 games)
2010 Stat Line: .204, 6 HR, 19 R, 15 RBI, 10 SB, .618 OPS
2010 Adjusted Line: .251, 16 HR, 65 R, 53 RBI, 38 SB, .704 OPS
Jeff Mathis (adjusted to 125 games)
2010 Stat Line: .195, 3 HR, 19 R, 18 RBI, 3 SB, .497 OPS
2010 Adjusted Line: .203, 11 HR, 47 R, 47 RBI, 7 SB, .530 OPS
LINEUP RECAP: As you can see, no Angel really had much luck on his side during the 2010 season. The largest discrepancy between actual numbers and adjusted numbers came from Bobby Abreu who suffered from a BABIP nearly 50 points under his career norm. If Bobby can perform like he did last year, and produce accordingly, the Angels might be in good shape with their lead off man after all (assuming Aybar isn't up there). Another player to watch is Peter Bourjos.. A swing of good luck could end up in a .275-20-80-80-45 season from the youngster. Seems like a stretch, but the skills he showed last season are promising that he could develop into a dangerous player.
In summary, let's hope the Halos find a little more luck in 2011 than they did in 2010 (or '07-'09 in the case of Vernon Wells). We are lucky enough to play in the AL West, so we are off to a good start.