June 5, 2006

One-Third WPA Update

The Twins are slightly past the one-third point of the season, but yesterday's off day provides an opportunity to catch up with the Win Probability Added totals. If you're not familiar with WPA, check out my layman's explanation of the stat from earlier this season. The short version is that WPA is the combined contribution made to increasing or decreasing the Twins' chances of winning each game.

The long version is really complicated, which is why I'll refer you to an old explanation rather than go over it again today. Each 50.0 points of WPA is worth one win above or below .500. In other words, someone with a 100.0 WPA has pushed the team from winning 81 games to winning 83 games, while someone with a -100.0 WPA has dragged the team from 81 wins to 79 wins.

Here are the Twins' totals through 56 games:

Joe Nathan            165.5          Ruben Sierra           -3.7
Johan Santana 149.5 Terry Tiffee -9.0
Joe Mauer 103.9 Lew Ford -12.6
Francisco Liriano 95.0 Nick Punto -14.3
Juan Rincon 86.6 Jason Kubel -22.8
Shannon Stewart 70.6 Luis Castillo -30.3
Matt Guerrier 35.9 Torii Hunter -31.0
Justin Morneau 24.4 Luis Rodriguez -39.5
Boof Bonser 16.8 Juan Castro -74.2
Mike Redmond 11.4 Scott Baker -74.3
Michael Cuddyer 7.0 Tony Batista -86.6
Willie Eyre 4.6 Jesse Crain -89.5
Dennys Reyes 2.3 Brad Radke -123.0
Carlos Silva -129.6
Kyle Lohse -136.5
Rondell White -196.3

Joe Nathan leading the team in WPA might be somewhat surprising given that he's had just seven save chances while inexplicably appearing in only 18 games, but he's essentially been perfect all year. At 3-0 with a 1.89 ERA and 27-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio, Nathan's 165.5 WPA ranks sixth among all MLB relievers and his average of 8.7 WPA per inning is remarkable.

The rest of Twins' leaders are no surprise. Johan Santana (149.5) and Joe Mauer (103.9) give the team a total of three players with over 100.0 WPA, while Francisco Liriano narrowly misses that mark at 95.0. Interestingly, Liriano's total includes positive contributions as a starter (71.2), reliever (16.2), and hitter (7.3). Yes, that bloop single down the left-field line in Milwaukee was worth quite a bit.

Shannon Stewart ranks sixth with a 70.6 WPA despite missing 21 of the 56 games and hitting a relatively modest .298/.355/.376. How is that possible? Stewart's impressive WPA reflects his .464 batting average with runners in scoring position and .444 batting average in "close and late" situations. In other words, he came up big in a number of crucial spots before going on the disabled list.

Even more extreme than Stewart's clutch hitting-fueled WPA, Justin Morneau's 24.4 WPA is due almost entirely to two swings--the game-winning single against Mariano Rivera and the go-ahead homer against Kirk Saarloos. Aside from his performance in those two games, Morneau's WPA is a pathetic -48.6.

Speaking of pathetic, Rondell White's -196.3 WPA means he's pushed the Twins nearly four games below .500 all by himself. In other words, if the team had replaced White with an "average" hitter in his 175 plate appearances they'd go from 25-31 to 29-27. Of course, finding an average hitter has been tough for the Twins, as nine of the 14 players with at least 25 at-bats have dragged the team down.

Of particular note among the negative-WPA hitters is Luis Castillo, who was arguably the Twins' MVP through 18 games. As recently as May 13 Castillo was hitting .357 with a 49.7 WPA that ranked among the team leaders. Since then he's batted .213 while racking up a startlingly bad -80.0 WPA (including -30.1 already in June). In less than a month Castillo went from hitting .357/.408/.478 to .294/.357/.376, and did so while flashing sloppy defense, poor hustle, and a shocking inability to lay down bunts.

White's horrendous season and Castillo's sudden collapse have been unexpected, but Tony Batista and Juan Castro combining for -160.8 WPA should surprise no one who reads this blog regularly. Add in sub par defense--which WPA doesn't account for--and the two starters on the left side of the infield have likely cost the Twins about five wins below .500. All of which is why I have little sympathy for Terry Ryan or Ron Gardenhire when it comes to the Twins' struggles.

As a group, the Twins' hitters have produced a dreadful -294.4 WPA. If you take Mauer and Stewart out of the mix that number plummets to -448.9. Put another way, the non-Mauer, non-Stewart portion of the Twins' offense has dragged the team nine wins below .500 in just 56 games. And here's a non-WPA stat to chew on: After hitting .259/.323/.391 last season, the Twins have hit .265/.324/.390 this year.

Not to be outdone, the non-Santana, non-Liriano portion of the rotation has somehow been even worse at -478.3 WPA. Santana's four rotation-mates at the beginning of the season have produced WPAs of -160.0 (Carlos Silva), -136.5 (Kyle Lohse), -123.0 (Brad Radke), and -72.8 (Scott Baker). Silva made up for some of that by posting a 30.4 WPA in five appearances out of the bullpen, although at -129.6 overall it's tough to notice.

Actually, the Twins' bullpen has been by far the team's biggest strength. In addition to Nathan leading the team with a 165.5 WPA, Juan Rincon (86.6) and Matt Guerrier (35.9) have also been excellent. Liriano contributed 16.2 WPA in 12 relief appearances before moving to the rotation, and even Willie Eyre (4.6) and Dennys Reyes (2.3) haven't hurt the team.

Unfortunately the same can't be said for Jesse Crain, who is the only pitcher to post a negative WPA as a reliever. Crain has produced a -89.5 WPA in 24 appearances, while the rest of the bullpen has come up with a 341.5 WPA in 105 appearances. In fact, take out Crain's ugly 6.66 ERA in 24.1 innings and the rest of the relievers have gone 6-0 with a 2.86 ERA in 138.1 innings of work.

Factoring in some rough estimates for positional adjustments offensively, defensive value, and considerations for playing time, here's what a WPA-based ranking of the 27 players who have appeared regularly in a Twins uniform through one-third of the season might look like:

 1. Joe Mauer            11. Michael Cuddyer      21. Scott Baker
2. Johan Santana 12. Boof Bonser 22. Jesse Crain
3. Joe Nathan 13. Luis Castillo 23. Brad Radke
4. Francisco Liriano 14. Lew Ford 24. Carlos Silva
5. Juan Rincon 15. Willie Eyre 25. Tony Batista
6. Shannon Stewart 16. Dennys Reyes 26. Kyle Lohse
7. Matt Guerrier 17. Nick Punto 27. Rondell White
8. Mike Redmond 18. Luis Rodriguez
9. Justin Morneau 19. Juan Castro N/A Ruben Sierra
10. Torii Hunter 20. Jason Kubel N/A Terry Tiffee

Remember, don't shoot the messenger. It's just a fun little stat.

UPDATE: Will Young, who tracks WPA with the added wrinkle of making subjective adjustments based on things like defense and baserunning, has posted his totals through 56 games. For the most part they're in line with the purely numbers-based calculations shown above, but there are some differences (like Stewart and Castillo dropping a ton because of poor defense).

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