Statistical Analysis: Nasty Nate Leading Off

Time and time again, we’ve come to the same conclusion about the 2007 Pirates: They’ll go as far as the top of the order carries them. We’re not worried about Sanchez, LaRoche and Bay. We’re confident that our starting rotation can at least achieve mediocrity. We lost our closer, but our bullpen is still a strength. It’s Duffy and Wilson that make us nervous.
I decided to take a look at the 2006 Pirates to find out how the team did with different players at the top of the order. Back to the Retrosheet method–counting, tallying and concluding.
For the purposes of this study, I went through the 162 box scores from last season and recorded the names of anyone who started a game batting first or second. Roll call:
1. Chris Duffy, 72 games; Jose Bautista, 44; Nate McLouth, 43; Jack Wilson, 1; Freddy Sanchez, 1.
2. Jack Wilson, 127 games; Jose Bautista, 14; Nate McLouth, 10; Jose Hernandez, 4; Joe Randa, 3; Freddy Sanchez, 3; Chris Duffy, 1.
I broke the season into two halves, with the All-Star break as a divider. For each half, I tallied the number of games started per player in either spot and the number of times the team won with the player in that spot. For the sake of brevity, there are 162 games at #1, 162 games at #2 and 134 wins to be divided (twice the total of 67).
As an example: The Pirates lost on Opening Day with Duffy at #1 and Wilson at #2. They each got a game tally, but no win. When they finally won on April 9th, Duffy and Wilson were at #1 and #2 again–so they each got a win tally in addition to another game tally.
Now, a not-so-fancy chart that displays the results:

   

Pre-ASB

Post-ASB

Full year

 
  Lead-off GS W GS W GS W W%
  Duffy 21 8 51 25 72 33 46
  Bautista 35 10 9 2 44 12 27
  McLouth 31 12 12 10 43 22 51
  Wilson 2 0 0 0 2 0 0
  Sanchez 1 0 0 0 1 0 0
                 
  Second GS W GS W GS W W%
  Wilson 72 25 55 29 127 54 43
  Bautista 4 1 10 6 14 7 50
  McLouth 8 4 2 1 10 5 50
  Hernandez 2 0 2 0 4 0 0
  Sanchez 3 0 0 0 3 0 0
  Randa 0 0 3 1 3 1 33
  Duffy 1 0 0 0 1 0 0

The first two columns are the numbers for the first half, then the second half, then the full year. Everyone who started a game in either of the two spots is listed. As for the Pirates, they were 30-60 in the first half, 37-35 in the second and 67-95 on the year. Those winning percentages are .333, .514 and .414.
A few stats that pop out at me:

  • The Pirates got thumped when Bautista was leading off. They did better when he was batting second.
  • Duffy’s second half winning percentage (.490) wasn’t that far off of the Pirates’ pace. Similarly, Wilson’s full year percentage wasn’t that far off of the final standings. They got the lion’s share of at bats in those situations, so that makes sense.
  • Nate McLouth was a stud at the top of the order in the second half. If the Pirates could go McLouth-McLouth-Sanchez-LaRoche, they might be a contender. Then again, they could flop if Nate turns out to be another first-half dud.
  • By winning percentages, the best orders would be: McLouth-Bautista, McLouth-Wilson, Duffy-Bautista, Duffy-McLouth, Duffy-Wilson.

I also kept track of the games where Duffy led off and Jack hit second. In the first half, the Bucs were 8-12 in those games (a good bit better than 30-60). In the second half, they were 17-17, only slightly behind the .514 pace. For the season, they were 25-30. That projects to 73.6 wins over the course of a full year.
There wasn’t a whole lot to prove, I suppose–and I’m not sure I even proved anything. There are dozens of variables that contribute to a game, not just the batting order. I thought it was interesting, though, to see how the team did with players in different spots in the order. This study could go much more in depth (after all there are eight position players in an order). Maybe that’ll happen on another slow news day.
By the way, feel free to put the memo on Jim Tracy’s desk: If Duffy or Wilson falters, pencil in Nate at the top of the order. It looks as if he might have the skill set to be a decent table-setter.

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Pittsburgh Pirates Roundtable #13

  • RH

    Duffy has all the skills to hit leadoff. He’s got speed, a decent eye and patience at the plate, and defensively, he gives you a tremendous effort every game.
    Duffy stole 26 bases and was caught just once last year — I think that might be an ML-best for players who stole more than 20 bases. He hit .282/.345/.366 the second half of the year and finished with an awesome .336/.403/.458 September, during which he stole 12 bags.
    Duffy, unless he falters, then McLouth.

  • Vaughn

    That’s really odd about Bautista, considering he had a .360 OBP and a .822 OPS in the leadoff spot.
    Also, McLouth had a .281 OBP and a .658 OPS in the leadoff spot, so our record doesn’t make much sense considering that either.
    Could it be coincidence? I think winning percentage is always more linked with the performance of your starting pitcher than your lineup order.

  • http://mvn.com/mlb-pirates Cory Humes

    As a disclaimer: I agree with RH. It’s Duffy until he fails. The title of the post was just supposed to get your attention, not make you think that I’m the president of the Nate McLouth fan club.
    I don’t have the stats in front of me, but I seem to remember a trend from the box scores: When Nate led off, it was all or nothing. There were games that no one could get him out, and there were games that he wouldn’t have been able to hit a little leaguer. It could be that he had more of those big games in the second half.
    Like I said, these stats don’t really mean too much–and like Vaughn said, there’s a good chance it’s coincidence.
    “There are dozens of variables that contribute to a game, not just the batting order.”
    I just figured it’d be fun to look at the numbers.

  • sisyphus

    A better study would be average runs scored per game at each position. Not that I expect you to go back and redo your work when I’m too lazy to do it for myself.

  • http://mvn.com/mlb-pirates Cory Humes

    Sisyphus, that goes way beyond my tallying research. I’d actually have to get out a calculator. I agree though.
    At some point I’ll put up another meaty statistical analysis. Maybe tonight if the roundtable stuff goes smoothly.

  • http://bucstradewinds.net/ Dave

    If memory servers me correct.
    In the minors Duffy led off and McLouth batted second through most of their careers. If there was a way the Pirates could get both at the top of the order, there is a ton of speed that could kill the opponent battery (Unfortunately that means sit Nady). There is nothing like having two leadoff men.
    If you still have the numbers. Did Duffy/McLouth ever bat 1-2 last season?

  • http://mvn.com/mlb-pirates Cory Humes

    Dave,
    I didn’t keep track of each #1-2 combination (only Duffy/Wilson, as that directly pertains to this season), but I seem to remember Bautista-McLouth much more than Duffy-McLouth.
    I’m planning on going back over this stuff later today, so I’ll have the answer for you then.

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