21 September 2012

Orioles Clutch

by Daniel Moroz
This has obviously been a magical season for the Orioles, and part of that has been guys coming up big when the team has needed them to. There's probably no better example of that than back-up catcher Taylor Teagarden, who has all of 7 hits on the season (.140 batting average, .229 wOBA), but who has made those hits count.
He knocked in the winning run with a pinch-hit single in the 18th inning in Seattle.
He hit a 7th inning go-ahead two-run double against the Rays, moving the score from 0-1 to 2-1 (the O's eventually on in the 14th).
He hit a game-tying home run against the White Sox in the 3rd inning, and then tacked on an insurance run in the 4th (that might have come into play, as the Sox made a failed rally in the 9th).
He drove in the only run of the game with a 10th inning double against the Rays at the beginning of August.
He singled as part of a rally against the A's in July, scoring a run in an inning that saw the O's go from down 5-2 to up 6-5 (though they lost). This is the only hit Teagarden has all year that didn't drive in a run, and it's the only game in which he got a hit that the Orioles didn't win.
In his first game of the season, he hit a 13th inning walk-off home run against the Tigers (giving Kevin Gregg the W!).
He also threw the potential tying runner out trying to steal to end last night's game. That is some clutch performance* right there.
* Note, this does not mean that Teagarden is a "clutch player", or that he'll continue to come up big going forward. Nice microcosm of the Orioles' season thus far in that respect.
Teagarden inspired me to take a look at such "overperformance", so I compared players' Win Probability Added (WPA) with their batting runs (as part of Wins Above Replacement) which looks at just individual production removed from context. Teagarden has a ho-hum +0.6 WPA (~5.7 in runs), while he's been at -4.1 batting runs overall - that's a difference of 9.8 runs based on the timing and context of his hits. That's not the best in the Majors this year by a long shot - Ian Desmond  is at +23 runs - but give Teagarden a little credit given his all the team he's missed; on a per plate appearance basis, he's easily #1 at making the most of his successes (+0.2 runs/PA).
Just looking at the Orioles, Teagarden is by far the best representation of this. Second (by plate appearances), is actually Steve Tolleson, at +2.5 in 74 PA. He's been a negative based on WPA (-0.2) but considering how awful of a hitter he is (.188/.233/.319, -4.4 batting runs), he should have hurt the team even more. His biggest moment was hitting a game-tying three-run homer off of Cliff Lee (the O's went on to win 5-4 in extras - I'm seeing a pattern here).
Ryan Flaherty (+4 in 137 PA) is in a similar bad-WPA, worse-hitter situation. His highest WPA play was breaking a 7th inning tie game against the Indians with a single (the O's went on to win 9-8, as a Xavier Avery homer provided a needed insurance run).
Steve Pearce isn't with the O's, but he did his part (0 batting runs above average, but +0.1 WPA) with a game-winning three-run homer against the Angels (the only runs the O's scored in that game).
Nate McLouth was a little lower than I expected, but he's actually hit quite well for the Orioles (.287/.358/.446, +5.4 batting runs) so his +0.9 WPA isn't that impressive. He does have three game-winning hits; a 4th inning two-run triple against the Tigers that moved the O's from behind to ahead and stood up for the rest of the game, an 8th inning two-run homer against the White Sox that moved the O's from behind to ahead (I believe this was the play of the year, at +0.53 WPA), and a walk-off RBI single against the Rays. McLouth has been one of those scrap-heap pick-ups that's done a really nice job for the team.
Mark Reynolds is often vilified by fans - especially as "garbage time" home run hitter - but his 1.6 WPA (second best amongst position players on the team) has outstripped his +9.2 batting runs. Perhaps ironically, his biggest hit of the season wasn't a homer but a two-run 8th inning single against the Twins that put the O's ahead 4-3 to stay. More musingly, his second biggest didn't even drive in a run - it was a ball he hit to lead off the 10th inning against the White Sox on which their center-fielder made a three-base error (Reynolds scored the winning run on Chris Davis' subsequent double, and O's won what ended up being a 10-4 route).
Getting mighty close to parity (on a rate basis), we have Adam Jones at +2.8 WPA and +22.3 batting runs. He has a ton of big hits, including 4 extra-inning home runs (all game-winners, though only one was a walk-off). #1 for him was actually not a homer or even a game-winner though, but an 11th inning game-tying single to keep the O's alive (they fell behind in the top of the frame, and went on to win in the 13th when the Orioles were behind again and JJ Hardy hit a game-tying homer before Teagarden did the walking-off).
On the other end of the spectrum you have the likes of Wilson Betemit (-0.9 WPA despite +1 batting runs), who has some late-inning heroics but also a lot of negative at bats.
Overall, most Orioles position players aren't too too far off between how they've hit overall and their Win Probability added - it's pretty much the Magic of Taylor Teagarden, and everyone else balances out (-1.7 WPA, -19.3 batting runs).
Things are a little different on the other side of the ball. Oriole starters have been below average (9th in the AL in ERA, FIP, xFIP, and SIERA all) and have a -1.2 WPA to show for it (8th in the league). The bullpen though, has been nuts; 3rd in ERA, 7th in FIP, and 6th in xFIP, but in first by far in WPA at a whopping +12.8. That's the best mark... ever*. This has been a historically lucky or clutch (or however you want to explain) group.
* Going back to 1974, but given the way reliever usage has changed over time - 14 of the top 20 are from the 2000s - I'd guess that it would hold up.
Jim Johnson: +4.8 WPA (best in the AL for relievers), 1.2 fWAR (16th in the AL for relievers)
Darren O'Day: +3.1 WPA (5th), 1.2 fWAR (14th)
Pedro Strop: +1.4 WPA (19th), 0.8 fWAR (39th)
Luis Ayala: +1.2 WPA (24th), 0.6 fWAR (44th)
Troy Patton: +0.9 WPA (37th), 0.8 fWAR (37th)
Plus Steve Johnson and Brian Matusz have combined for +1.0 WPA in their relatively short time out there.
The worst mark in the pen for a reliever with more than 10.1 IP is Kevin Gregg... at -0.1 WPA. Even Kevin Gregg barely decreased the Orioles' probability of winning games this year. That's amazing.
I guess that's how you win 15 straight extra-inning games (15-2 overall) and go 27-8 in one-run games. Having Taylor Teagarden around in later innings might help a little too.

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