April 18, 2014

Interpreting The Pirates Early Season Team Stats

Posted By Jim Falbo


Tags: Baseball Pirates Pittsburgh Pittsburgh Pirates Sports

“Small sample size” has become part of the sports fan’s lexicon. It’s used to explain the statistical aberrations that occur over a short period of time. A fictional example would be this exchange:

Yinzer Joe- “Clint Barmes is batting .450! That’s tops on the team, you think he’s figured something out? Is Hurdle going to play him everyday and move him up in the lineup?”

Freddy Fan- “Clint Barmes is 9/20, that’s a small sample size, going into 2014 he’s a .246 hitter in 3506 AB, he hit .211 last year, and furthermore he hasn’t hit over .245 since 2008…so I’d expect him to continue that trend and be something like a .220 hitter the rest of the way.”

So far the Pirates have played 16 games and have a record of 8-8 through approximately 10% of the season. Many if not most of the individual statistics fall into the “small sample size” category this early in the season. However team stats represent a broader spectrum of results, enough so that one can make an interpretive analysis.

~As a team the Pirates have scored 68 runs and given up 63, the. Pirates are tied for 9th most runs scored in the MLB, while they rank 16th in runs allowed.

~Pirates pitchers have a HR/FB of 15.6, 2nd worst in MLB behind only the Cincinnati Reds. On a positive note, that rate is unsustainably high. The league average is generally right around 10%, and the worst team in 2013 was the Orioles who posted a HR/FB of 12.9%. So we will see an improvement in home run prevention by the
black and gold.

~The Pirates have only allowed a .278 BABIP, 5th best in MLB. This usually would be cause for concern, as the 2013 league average was .297. However the Pirates only allowed a .285 BABIP in 2013. These low figures can be explained by the Pirates defensive shifting (not just the over shifts), converting out of zone plays into outs
(good range, especially by Starling Marte), Russell Martin’s pitch framing skills (more strikes equals better count leverage for pitchers), and a high 48.5 GB% (weak contact), ranking 6 in MLB.

~The Pirates have outperformed their 4.08 FIP, by posting a 3.64 ERA so far this season. Their team ERA ranks 17th among MLB teams, however their 3.54 xFIP (the best statistic in predicting future performance) suggests that they could be a top 10 team in run prevention from here on out. If we get better production from Wandy
Rodriguez’s rotation spot whether it be from Wandy or someone like a Brandon Cumpton, we could definitely see a top 10 pitching staff. One more pitcher I expect to see improvement from is Gerrit Cole. If Cole performs near the level he did during the end of 2013 season, then Cole and Francisco Liriano will be a deadly duo to face in a short series.

~Pirates batters have hit 23 HR, 2nd in MLB and 1st in the NL. However in 2013 the Pirates finished 13th in MLB and 6th in the NL with 161 HR, I’d expect that the Buccos would finish with similar number and rankings in 2014. This is partly due to the fact that the same core offensive players are back this season, but mostly
due to our unsustainably high MLB leading 16.7% HR/FB. The Pirates actually finished 2nd in MLB last year, but with a 11.7% HR/FB. This percentage could potentially be reached again, but even with a high HR/FB the Bucs finished in middle of the pack in HR.

~As a team the Pirates have hit a less than encouraging .231, ranking 25th in MLB. Expect this number to improve, as Pirates hitters have posted an unsustainable .268 BABIP, the 4th worst in MLB. Last year the Chicago Cubs posted a MLB worst .275 BABIP, expect the Pirates to reach levels nearer to the MLB BABIP average of .297 the rest of the way.

~Pirates batter have posted a composite 95 wRC+, which is 5% below the MLB average, and ranked 18th in MLB. Improvements could be on the way, when Andrew McCutchen and Jordy Mercer reach numbers approaching their recent performances, and if and when Andrew Lambo replaces Travis Ishikawa on the roster. The platoon of Travis Snider and Jose Tabata also has room for offensive improvement, although I’m less optimistic of Snider given his lack of success at the MLB level. If Gregory Polanco continues to play well, his
arrival represents an immediate upgrade at the RF position. His ETA is June 10th, that date represents a safety point where he’ll avoid becoming a super 2 player, giving the Pirates an extra year of a league minimum contract, and one fewer year of arbitration. Avoiding the super 2 designation could save the Pirates nearly $15MM, so the wait, though painful, is worth it.

Jim Falbo
About Jim Falbo

Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball coverage. Live from the Bullpen! #SharkTank


  • Jim Falbo
    Jim Falbo

    April 19, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    The smaller sampling explains the aberration in HR/FB rates, our hitters low BABIP, and HR/FB rates are normalized when calculating xFIP, that’s what I was getting at. Enjoy Forrest Gump, it’s a classic.

  • Jim Falbo
    Jim Falbo

    April 19, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    The smaller sampling explains the aberration in HR/FB rates, our hitters low BABIP, and HR/FB rates are normalized when calculating xFIP, that’s what I was getting at. Enjoy Forrest Gump, it’s a classic.


    April 19, 2014 at 11:31 am

    Small sample sizes are just that – small. Statistics 101 teaches you not to infer much if anything from a small sample size. How about doing this next after the All-Star break when there is some information to work with. There…now I’m going back to watching Forrest Gump.