The 2013 Season as seen through the Prism of Player Won-Lost Records
Retrosheet released play-by-play data for the 2013 season just after Thanksgiving and I have recently updated my Player won-lost records to incoporporate the 2013 season.
This article takes a look at the 2013 season as measured by Player won-lost records.
The Best of 2013
I calculate Player won-lost records two ways: pWins, which tie to team wins and eWins, which control for context and the ability of one's teammates. For players with more pWins than eWins, their Player wins contributed to more team wins than one might expect; for players with more eWins than pWins, just the opposite is true: their Player wins translated into fewer team wins than expected. Or more briefly: a player with more pWins than eWins was better in context, a player with more eWins than pWins was worse in context.
The top 10 players in pWins above Positional Average and Replacement Level were as follows.
The top 10 players in eWins above Positional Average and Replacement Level were as follows.
Cabrera vs. Trout: Again
Just like in 2012, the top two finishers in the American League MVP voting were Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout. Unlike in 2012, where there was really very little question about who was better by most sabermetric stats (including Player won-lost records).
In 2013, on the other hand, the debate between Trout and Cabrera is somewhat more interesting. Specifically, it boils down to this: how much does context matter in determining player value?
The next table compares Miguel Cabrera's and Mike Trout's seasons, in and out of context.
Mike Trout's 2013 performance translated into about 1.5 fewer actual wins than expected. Miguel Cabrera's 2013 performance translated into about 0.9 more actual wins than expected.
Part of this was because Trout's teammates were not as good as Cabrera's teammates, and so Trout had fewer opportunities to contribute to wins. But much of the difference was based on how the two of them performed in the most win-important situations.
In tie games, Mike Trout batted .301/.389/.593 with 32 RBI in 244 PAs. In games where the score margin was more than four runs (in either team's favor), Trout batted .466/.547/.863 with 24 RBI in 86 PAs. Trout's OPS by leverage in low-medium-high leverage went 1.055-1.035-.713; Trout batted .257/.386/.327 in 132 high-leverage plate appareances with only one home run.
In tie games, Miguel Cabrera batted .364/.462/.695 with 43 RBI in 223 PAs. In games where the score margin was more than four runs, Cabrera batted .250/.304/.375. Cabrera's OPS by leverage in low-medium-high leverage went .968-1.161-1.188; Cabrera batted .323/.459/.729 in 122 high-leverage plate appearances with 11 home runs.
I'm not suggesting that these splits are predictive of next year or necessarily reflect a talent of either player. But, in 2013, they really happened, and they contributed to real wins by the Detroit Tigers who could have missed the playoffs had they won as little as two fewer games. Based on that, Miguel Cabrera would have gotten my vote for 2013 American League Most Valuable Player.
Best Pitcher in Baseball: Clayton Kershaw
The top pitcher in three of the four tables above won his second Cy Young award in three seasons, with a second-place finish in between. It seems pretty clear to me that Clayton Kershaw has cemented his place as the best pitcher in the major leagues.
The next table presents the career record of Clayton Kershaw to date, as measured by Player won-lost records.
Basic Player Won-Lost Records
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|CAREER (reg. season)|| || |
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|PostSeason (career)|| || |
|2.7||2.3||0.542|| ||0.6||2.6||2.3||0.527|| ||0.5|
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|COMBINED|| || |
NL Central Center Fielders: Andrew McCutchen vs. Shin-Soo Choo
Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen was voted the Most Valuable Player in the National League. Based on the tables shown above, McCutchen wasn't necessarily even the best center fielder in his own division. This is not a knock on Andrew McCutchen so much as this: Player won-lost records really, really, really liked Shin-Soo Choo's 2013 season for the Reds.
The next table compares Andrew McCutchen's and Shin-Soo Choo's 2013 seasons as measured by Player won-lost records.
Unlike Cabrera vs. Trout, this one doesn't really have anything to do with context. To see what it does have to do with, the next table breaks McCutchen's and Choo's (context-neutral, teammate-adjusted) Player won-lost records by factor: batting, baserunning, and fielding.
I think that there are two things that this table reveals. First, Shin-Soo Choo really did have an excellent offensive season in 2013. He was second in the National League in on-base percentage (.423), times on base (300), and runs scored (107). McCuthchen had a somewhat higher slugging percentage (.508 to .462), but even in terms of power, Choo matched McCutchen with 21 home runs. McCutchen gained a few runs on Choo for his baserunning, so, overall McCutchen was the better offensive player, but Shin-Soo Choo had an outstanding offensive season in 2013.
Second, and undoubtedly more controversial, the reason why Shin-Soo Choo beats Andrew McCutchen in Player won-lost records is because, according to Player won-lost records, Shin-Soo Choo was the best defensive centerfielder in the major leagues. I have to be honest here: Player won-lost records are my baby and I love them, but I pretty seriously doubt this result. Shin-Soo Choo was a corner outfielder playing out of position. Baseball-Reference shows Choo as -18 defensive runs according to BIS, Fangraphs shows Choo with a -15.5 UZR.
Why am I showing Choo as so much better? The one statistic that Choo has in his favor is that the Reds led the major-leagues in defensive efficiency at .715. They also led the major leagues in Total Zone runs (reported by Baseball-Reference) and, in fact, Choo rated as +13 runs in Total Zone. BIS's defensive runs saved and UZR both have the Reds a more pedestrian 8th in the major leagues. Player won-lost records, on the other hand, show the Reds as the best fielding team in the majors.
At the team level, I'm more inclined to believe that the team with the best defensive efficiency should have the best fielding statistics. So, certainly, I think that's a point in favor of Player won-lost records insofar as their view of the Reds as a team. But whether that translates into Shin-Soo Choo really being the best defensive CF in baseball? I'm a lot more skeptical of that one. On the other hand, Choo had 32 more putouts than McCutchen in 16 fewer innings and the Reds allowed 75 fewer hits on balls-in-play than the Pirates. So, you know, maybe Player won-lost records are right here.
If you adjust the above numbers to take away Shin-Soo Choo's fielding edge on Andrew McCutchen, McCutchen moves ahead of Choo in Player wins over either positional average or replacement level.
The 2013 postseason began with the Pittsburgh Pirates making their first postseason appearance in 21 seasons and ended with a rematch of the 2004 World Series and the Boston Red Sox third World Series win in 10 seasons.
The best players in the postseason, as measured by Player won-lost records are shown in the table below.
The top two performers were World Series star (and MVP) David Ortiz and NLCS star (and MVP) Michael Wacha.
Top postseason players by round were as follows.
Best of 2013 by Factor and Position
Next, let's look at the top players in (context-neutral, teammate-adjusted) eWins over Positional Average in various aspects of the game.
Best by Factor: Batting, Baserunning, Pitching, Fielding
There are four basic factors for which players earn Player won-lost records: Batting, Baserunning, Pitching, and Fielding. The top players in 2013 in eWOPA by factor were as follows.
Positional Average excludes pitcher offense
Positional Average excludes pitcher offense
Best by Position
Next, we look at 2013 Major-League leaders in eWOPA by position. The figures shown here only include Player decisions earned while playing this particular position, and include no contextual adjustments (expected or actual).
For relief pitchers, context-neutral records may not be the best measure of how good they are, as context can matter a great deal, depending on how a pitcher is used. Here are the top relief pitchers of 2013 in context, in terms of pWins and pWOPA.
Uehara's failure to appear on that list is purely a function of the leverage in which he was used early in the season, not on his relative performance in high- vs. low-leverage situations. Obviously, the Red Sox recognized what they had and fixed that problem by the end of the season.
Finally, here are the best at three oft-forgotten positions that can nevertheless matter: pitcher offense, pinch hitting, and pinch running.
Billy Hamilton made his major-league debut on September 3, 2013. Despite giving everybody else in baseball a 5-month head start, Hamilton was still the most valuable pinch runner in baseball in 2013.
Noteworthy Players of 2013
Finally, let's take a look at some players who had noteworthy 2013 seasons.
It is too early to judge the historical significance of players who made their major-league debut in 2013. The next table shows all players who made their major-league debut in 2013 and earned at least one pWin over replacement level.
Finally, 2013 was the final season for two longtime teammates who won five World Series together: Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera.
The next table compares their career records, as measured by Player won-lost records. The numbers in this table include postseason games, since the postseason was such a large part of both of their careers.
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