Team Ball-In-Play Analysis: NL East

We’re now more than halfway through our division-by-division look at granular team ball-in-play data, as of the All Star break. Today, we take a macro-type view of the plate-appearance frequency and BIP exit speed/angle detail for NL East clubs.

About 90 games’ worth of balls in play is a fairly substantial sample size, one that enables us to make fairly educated guesses about the true talent level of each team. Let’s use this information to project true-talent team won-lost records and compare them to their actual marks at the break, examining the reasons for material variation along the way.

Projected Team Records Based on BIP Data
WAS 5.63 4.76 0.582 4.62 3.32 0.660 4.62 3.56 0.627 56 34 54 36 -2
NYM 5.59 5.28 0.528 4.18 3.82 0.545 4.18 4.01 0.521 46 42 47 41 1
MIA 5.11 5.51 0.463 4.04 4.24 0.477 4.04 3.89 0.519 45 43 47 41 2
PHL 4.95 5.78 0.423 3.71 4.22 0.436 3.71 4.35 0.421 38 52 42 48 4
ATL 4.53 5.56 0.399 3.62 4.44 0.399 3.62 4.47 0.396 35 54 31 58 -4
NL AVG 5.34 5.33 0.501 4.15 4.15 0.501 4.15 4.13 0.503 45 44 44 45 0

The left two-thirds of the table is broken into three sections, projecting team winning percentages solely via projected runs scored/allowed based on BIP exit speed/angle (first three columns), and then by first adding in actual offensive and defensive K and BB (next three columns), and lastly, by adding in net team defense vis-à-vis their opponents (next three columns).

Net team defense is measured by comparing both clubs’ actual vs. projected runs scored and allowed to the projected run-scoring environment based on exit speed/angle of all BIP in those games. It encompasses not only individual player defense, but the impact of extra bases taken on batted balls, the impact of overshifting for and against, and, alas, random chance. The amount in the “PIT ERA” column in the “+ K & BB” section is multiplied by the team defensive factor (under 1.00 is good, under 1.00, not so much), resulting in the “PIT ERA” value in the “+ TM DEF” section.

Team projected and actual won-lost records as of the All Star break are listed in the rightmost columns, along with the difference between the two. Now, let’s dig a little deeper into the BIP portfolios of the NL East clubs.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS: The Nationals are a very good club in most aspects of the game. On balls in play, their offense benefits both from strong authority and a solid batted-ball mix. They hit the hardest liners in the NL through the break (though they had a low liner rate), with projected production of .673 AVG-.915 SLG, compared to the NL average of .656 AVG-.865 SLG. They also hit the second hardest grounders, though their fly ball authority was much closer to the average range. The Nats also posted the third highest fly ball rate in the NL at the break. Overall, the club’s 5.63 offensive “ERA” on BIP alone was best in the East, and 4th overall in the NL at the break.

They also excel at limiting damage on balls-in-play. The staff allowed plenty of 75-95 MPH “donut-hole” fly balls, allowing NL-low projected production on both fly balls (.297 AVG-.787 SLG vs. NL average .325 AVG-.873 SLG) and liners (.647 AVG-.839 SLG). Their rotation is most well known for the strikeout exploits of Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer, while the contact management ability of Tanner Roark (not to mention Strasburg’s improvement in this department) tend to fly under the radar. The staff’s projected ERA of 4.76 on BIP alone tied the Dodgers for best in the NL at the break, fractionally ahead of the Cubs, for a projected winning percentage of .582.

Adding K and BB back into the mix is a huge plus for the Nats. They are above average in all four measures, on both sides of the ball, with a particularly large impact on the mound. Offensively, their low K rate is the primary driver, with the projected offensive “ERA” of 4.62 now over one full STD better than league average, second in the NL. Their pitching K and BB rates were barely outpaced by the Dodgers at the break, with no club in either league coming close to the two in K-BB spread. This sends their projected ERA spiraling down to 3.32, again over a full STD better than the league. Their projected winning percentage of .660 before adjustment for net team defense is best in the NL, yes, ahead of the Cubs.

What about that team defense? It doesn’t grade out well using my method. Their team defensive multiplier of 1.074 ranks worst in the NL, pretty far out of step with most publicly available metrics. The biggest issue is their fly ball defense, with an NL-worst 1.206 multiplier. Jayson Werth appears to be the primary culprit here. The Nats and their opponents both struck their in-play fly balls about equally as well through the break, but the Nats hit just .154 AVG-.243 SLG while their opponents fared much better at .183 AVG-.289 SLG.

No matter, this is still a high-quality club, with a projected .627 winning percentage at the break, translating a 56-34 record, two games better than their actual mark.

NEW YORK METS: It’s a pretty steep drop down to the second-best true-talent club in the division at the break. The Mets rate as a near average club across the board. If the team’s most obvious strength is their K-BB profile on the pitching side, their offensive ball-striking ability is their more subtle one. However, it’s a high-risk, high-reward “old player skill” BIP portfolio that has delivered that result. Lots of fly balls (with lots of pop ups) an extremely weakly struck grounders were featured; they’re quite prominent in the individual profiles of Curtis Granderson and David Wright. Authority-wise, the Mets are ordinary; it’s all those fly balls that carried them to a 5.59 offensive “ERA” on BIP alone, just behind the Nats for second in the East, and fifth overall in the NL.

While their ball-striking skills might not be as good as the numbers indicate, the opposite is true with regard to contact management. Their overall projected ERA of 5.28 is in the league average range, but is inflated by a high 22.0% liner rate allowed (3rd in the NL) which ripe for regression. Met hurlers did a very good job of stifling fly ball contact (projected .312 AVG-.823 SLG). On BIP alone, the Mets had a .528 projected winning percentage.

The addition of K and BB into the mix helps the Mets greatly on the pitching side, and hurts a bit on offense. The club strikes out quite a bit more than average, dropping their offensive “ERA” to 4.18, almost exactly league average. Their pitching staff K rate isn’t in the Nats’ league, but is still well above average, but their BB rate was barely nosed out by the Giants for NL-best at the break. This drags their projected ERA down to 3.82, over one-half STD better than league average and fourth-best in the NL at the break. This moves their projected winning percentage up to .545 before adjustment for net team defense.

The Mets grade out nearly as poorly as the Nats in net team defense, with 1.049 team defensive multiplier. Both their fly ball (1.092 multiplier) and grounder (1.111) defense was subpar. The suspects are many; Yoenis Cespedes and Granderson in the outfield, and James Loney and the injured Wright in the infield. Employing an actual center fielder at some point might help. After adjustment for defense, the Mets’ projected winning percentage of .521 translates to a 46-42 record at the break, one game shy of their actual mark.

MIAMI MARLINS: This is one interesting team. You might expect a club employing the likes of Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna to be one of the premier baseball-impacting teams in the league. Not so. They ranked 11th in the NL in projected offensive “ERA” on BIP alone at the break, thanks mostly to the second-lowest fly ball rate in the majors (27.2%, fractionally higher than the Diamondbacks). Their fly ball authority is modest as well, with below average projected production of .316 AVG-.801 SLG, thanks to the likes of Martin Prado, Adeiny Hechavarria and Ichiro Suzuki, among others. Thanks to Yelich, they posted the highest projected production on grounders in either league, at .259 AVG-.282 SLG. Oh, if he could just hit more fly balls without compromising his low pop up rate or strong overall authority; how good could he (and the Marlins) be?

The pitching staff’s contact management ability mirrors the Mets in many ways, though with a couple of negative flourishes. Authority was largely maintained at near league-average levels, but an MLB-leading liner rate of 22.5% at the break did major damage to the overall numbers. Jose Fernandez hasn’t allowed a ton of contact to date, but when he has, it’s been of the squared-up variety. The club also allowed the second highest fly ball rate in the NL in the first half. Their projected ERA on BIP alone of 5.51 was also 11th in the NL at the break, for a .463 projected winning percentage.

The addition of offensive and defensive K and BB has a mixed impact on the Marlins. Their lower than average offensive K rate allows them to move into the average range with a projected 4.04 offensive “ERA”, while their high BB rate on the mound mutes the impact of their solid K rate. Their projected staff ERA of 4.24 is also in the league average range, and their projected winning percentage before adjustment for defense improves to .477.

The Marlins grade out as by far the best defensive club in the East, and second only to the Cubs in the NL, with a .919 multiplier. There is strength all over the diamond, with .802 fly ball and .845 ground ball multipliers. Hechavarria is by far the club’s premier defender, anchoring the infield. Their outfield is the converse of the Nationals’. Both the Marlins and their opponents struck their in-play flies with similar authority; the Fish batted .235 AVG-.370 SLG on theirs, their opponents, just .191 AVG-.292 SLG. This pushes the club’s projected winning percentage well upward to .519, or a 45-43 record, two games below their actual mark at the break.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES: Very quietly, this supposedly tanking club has outplayed its peripherals this season, performing quite competitively. On BIP alone, it’s a not pretty picture. Neither their offensive authority or BIP mix is very good. Only their grounders (projected .246 AVG-.268 SLG, compared to NL average .236 AVG-.257 SLG, thanks to grounder-masher Odubel Herrera) were hit harder than average, and they managed to have the second highest pop up rate in the league while posting a lower than average fly ball rate. Their 4.95 projected offensive “ERA” on BIP alone ranked 13th in the NL at the break.

Very quietly, their pitching staff yielded very hard first-half contact, but as with the Mets and Marlins, it was more BIP than authority-based. Only the Marlins allowed a higher liner rate in either league, and while the staff’s projected .331 AVG allowed in the air was in the league average range, their .920 SLG allowed was well above. Overall, the staff’s projected 5.78 ERA on BIP alone was second worst in the NL, narrowly better than the Reds. Their projected winning percentage on BIP alone was .423 at the break, third worst in the league.

The addition of K and BB into the mix is, on balance, a positive for the Phils. There’s no help on the offensive side, where their low team BB rate is most notable, as their projected offensive “ERA” stays over a full STD below average at 3.71, third worst in the NL. On the pitching side, their solid K rate and very low BB rate is a major help; their projected ERA drops way down into the league average range, actually fractionally better than the Marlins at 4.22. Their projected winning percentage before net team defense gets a slight boost to .426, moving up a couple slots in the league rankings.

Their team defense grades out as below average with a 1.032 multiplier, fourth worst in the NL. The biggest issue is in the infield, as they posted a 1.068 multiplier on grounders. First basemen Ryan Howard and Tommy Joseph have had a particularly rough go. Their projected winning percentage drops to .421, translating to a 38-52 record, four games worse than their 42-48 mark at the break.

ATLANTA BRAVES: In terms of ball-striking, it would be pretty tough to conjure up an image of an offense worse than the 2016 Atlanta Braves. Only three teams have lower fly ball rates, and absolutely no one hits their flies more weakly. Their projected production in the air at the break was .290 AVG-.713 SLG, over two full STD lower than average, and miles behind their nearest competition. Overall, their projected offensive ERA of 4.53 on BIP alone is also over two STD lower than league average, by far the worst in the NL.

On the mound, it’s only marginally better, and the reality might be worse than the actual numbers suggest. To wit, a 5.56 projected ERA on BIP alone despite the second lowest liner rate in the NL, which is likely to regress in the wrong direction. Braves’ pitchers allowed by far the hardest grounders in the NL at the break, with projected production allowed of .252 AVG-.274 SLG. On BIP alone, the Braves’ projected winning percentage at the break was .399, worst in the league.

Adding back the K and BB has modest, offsetting effects on the Braves. At bat, their low strikeout rate allows their projected offensive “ERA” to get off of the floor and actually move ahead of one club to 3.62, still over a full STD below league average. On the mound, however, their below average K rate keeps them clearly worse than league average with a 4.44 projected team ERA. Adjusted for K and BB, the club’s projected winning percentage remains unchanged at .399.

The adjustment for net team defense is almost nonexistent as well. Their 1.006 multiplier actually ranks second in the division, and is markedly better than publicly available methods which don’t hit the pitching staff hard enough for the loud contact they allow. Their ground ball multiplier of 1.114 is notably poor, with all four current regulars grading out as below average in most methods. Their team liner multiplier of .935 is third best in the league, and is likely driven by the excellence of Ender Inciarte. Their projected winning percentage dips ever so slightly to .396, translating to a 35-54 record, four games better than their 31-58 mark at the break.

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7 years ago

I remember you saying the nationals defence was the league’s worst in the primer but can that really be just Jason Werth? They are pretty much at least top 10 in most major defensiv categoryies, and have the fewest errors in either league.

I don’t think they are a defensive judgement by any means, but just can’t imagine they are even close to the worse fielding team.