Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Fun with splits and small sample sizes

Freddy Sanchez circles the bases after hitting a grand slam on August 28 - AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Obviously, Freddy Sanchez has been hitting the cover off the ball recently. However, I did not realize just how productive he has actually been. Freddy has hit .353/.410/.602 since the All-Star break, good for the fifth best OPS in the National League over that period (minimum 150 PA). Knowing him to be a high average, low walk, low power style hitter, I was impressed when I saw those numbers. Looking at Sanchez’s second-half statistics, I found myself entering “small sample size mode.”

During the past offseason, I think we all became sick of the numbers “37-35.” Pirate management mentioned the team’s 2006 second-half record during virtually every interview between October and April, consistently neglecting to discuss the 30-60 record the team had before the break. Considering the Pirates, despite their recent surge, are only 20-29 since the break this season, management will need a new positive spin method for the upcoming offseason. I thought I would get a head start and help them out a bit. It is time to take the Pirates’ second half offensive numbers and extend them over 162 games.

Since the All-Star break, a hypothetical lineup (using Maholm hitting ninth) produced the following numbers:

Nate McLouth: .251/.342/.485
Jack Wilson: .312/.370/.464
Freddy Sanchez: .353/.410/.602
Adam LaRoche: .314/.372/.483
Jose Bautista: .261/.353/.470
Xavier Nady: .278/.336/.454
Jason Bay: .253/.322/.416
Ronny Paulino: .273/.322/.432
Paul Maholm: .208/.208/.250

Of course, nobody will mistake that lineup for the 1927 Yankees. But these statistics are much easier to stomach than the team’s overall numbers. In 49 games since the break, the Pirates have scored 253 runs. That pace would give the team 837 runs over 162 games. Entering the above hypothetical lineup into Baseball Musings’ lineup analysis tool, the Pirates would be expected to score 5.152 runs per game. Over 162 games, that would equal 834 runs.* In 2006, 834 runs scored would have left the Pirates tied for seventh in Major League Baseball. That is a respectable ranking.

So what does this all mean? It means that scoring 253 runs and allowing 265 runs after the All-Star break is only marginally more effective than scoring 367 and allowing 427 before it. But we can expect to hear quite a bit of Pirate management citing the “much improved offense” as a reason to expect success in 2008. Unless we are expecting Freddy Sanchez to consistently slug over .600, it will be just another hollow promise.

*This run total does not account for Josh Phelps’ 1.324 second-half OPS coming off the bench.

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