Monday, April 28, 2014

The Most Exciting Team in Baseball


Last week I posted on the slow pace of baseball games using my Pitches Per Minute (PPM) statistic. I mentioned my findings to a couple of friends, one of whom has attended a number of Tampa Bay Rays games this season. He said the Rays have to be the slowest team out there because every game he watches seems to take an eternity. So I decided to check the stats for each team and he was almost right. It is not the Yankees or Red Sox who are playing the slowest games this season, but Colorado!  Their 1.502 PPM is just behind the Rays at 1.508. That's horribly slow by the way (think about it: 15 pitches every 10 minutes) and likely an MLB record. The quickest team is the Blue Jays at 1.666, meaning an average Jays' game moves along at a pace about 11% faster than an average Rockies' contest.

Here are the top 5 fastest and slowest teams by PPM so far in 2014, with games through Sunday, April 27:

1. Tor   1.666
2. Min   1.641
3. Bal   1.627
4. Cle   1.605
5. KC    1.603
...
26. NYY  1.530
27. Mil  1.529
28. LAD  1.511
29. TB   1.508
30. Col  1.502

Still very early, but already significant differences between the way teams play the game. Interesting to see five AL teams on top, as you might expect games with the DH to move slower, but they don't. In fact, AL games are moving about 1% faster than NL games so far this season, hardly a meaningful result; last year both leagues had an identical PPM of 1.586.

It is not surprising to see Toronto leading in PPM as they have Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey, two quick workers, in their rotation. They also led in 2012 with 1.685 PPM, 3% faster than second-placed KC.

So does that mean Toronto is the most exciting team and Colorado the least? Well, that depends on what you consider to be exciting baseball.

Quantifying Excitement in Baseball

I like a fast-paced game, but that is not all that makes baseball interesting. Runs are key (duh!), and a close game matters as well. Therefore, the formula I came up with uses these three factors for each team, all relative to the league average:

1) Team PPM;
2) Team Total Runs Per Game (RPG, this includes runs for and against);
3) Team Run Differential Per Game (RDPG).

First, I looked at the 2013 season as the full data set allowed me to adjust each component to make each approximately equal in weight. I realized that RPG and RDPG are more variable than PPM, therefore I use the square root of RPG and the cube root of RDPG to mitigate the variance (there are better ways to do this but this is not a serious scientific study here). I then multiplied the factors together to get a number, which I call the team's Excitement Factor (EF). This number will generally average around 1, with teams above that playing more "exciting" baseball, while those below are slower paced and see less runs in their games, and thus can be considered "boring".

For 2013, the Blue Jays had an EF of 1.106, making them the most exciting team in MLB (laughable to us Toronto fans). Their 1.685 PPM was so much quicker than anybody else and their 8.98 RPG was also significantly higher than the average. Their run differential was right around the league average, so in the end, if you wanted to see lots of runs scored, a relatively close game, and a fast pace, the Jays were your team in 2013. If you wanted to see them win, well, you should have watched tapes of the 1992 and 1993 seasons.  The dullest team last year was the Dodgers, who came in well below average in all 3 areas for an EF of 0.94, which just shows that money can't buy excitement.

Now let's look at 2014, up to and including games of April 27. Here are the averages with 375 games played:

PPM: 1.569
RPG: 8.37
RDPG: 3.27

And here are the top five and bottom five clubs in EF:

1. Min 1.132 2nd in PPM (1.641), 1st in RPG (10.83), 24th in RDPG (3.78)
2. Det 1.108
3. SF  1.083
4. Ari 1.076
5. Bal 1.073
...
26. Mil 0.925
27. NYY 0.9095
28. SD  0.9091
29. TB  0.885
30. Stl 0.880 13th in PPM (1.577), 28th in RPG (6.42), 18th in RDPG (3.27)

I could post the entire table of calculations but that would be too many numbers. Using the Twins as an example, their PPM is 4.5% faster than average (1.641/1.569=1.045); RPG is 29.3% better than the average (the square root of 1.293 is 1.137); and their RDPG is 86.3% of the average (the cube root of 0.863 is 0.952). Multiply 1.045 by 1.137 by 0.952 to get 1.132, the Excitement Factor for Minnesota. The number itself is meaningless, but it is used to rank the 30 teams.

So there you have it, the Twins are the most exciting team this season, while St. Louis is the most boring. Again, note that this analysis is for a purely neutral observer who wants to see fast, high-scoring, and close games, not another gem by Adam Wainwright; judging from what I witness at games I attend most fans fall into this first group. These numbers also do not account for a team's win-loss record or rare games such as no-hitters.

As an aside, the Red Sox are wrongly blamed for boring baseball; they are slightly above league average in all three areas, coming in 9th overall in EF.

As we are only about 15% through the season, these numbers will regress towards the mean and the final results will likely be quite different. So far this season though, a Twins vs. Tigers matchup is the best bet for "excitement".

Best.

Sean

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