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What might have been

First of all, my apologies to everyone for not getting a post up yesterday. I moved yesterday and thought I’d be able to get one done Friday night – didn’t happen. Then I thought I’d have some time yesterday – nope. So here I lay on the floor of my new office typing together yesterday’s/today’s post so that we might have something Cardinal-related to discuss. Please forgive. Thanks to Dan for getting one up w/o any notice.

I wanted to take a look today at the degree to which the Cards’ hitters were lucky last year after being inspired by Rich Lederer’s page over at Baseball Analysts a couple of days ago. He uses data from THT to tell us that the groundball out rate in 2008 was 74%, the fly ball (non-homer variety) out rate was 84%, and the line drive out rate was 29%. It should surprise no one that most grounders and fly balls (that don’t leave the park) ended up as outs and that most line drives didn’t. In any case, I decided to take a look at the number of groundballs, fly balls, and line drives each Cardinal hit last season to see if we ended up w/ more, or fewer, hits than average. How lucky were they based on their GB%, FB%, and LD%.

For this exercise, I’m going to keep each player’s HR rate as it was b/c we’re not trying to make any sort of determination as to whether any of our hitters had an inordinately high or low number of homers relative to their FB rate. For the table below, OFFB stands for outfield fly balls that do not end up as homers and IFFB are, of course, infield fly balls. IFFB end up as outs 99% of the time.

Pujols 192 121 107 21 37
Ludwick 109 133 105 16 37
Glaus 168 146 83 19 27
Ankiel 115 100 60 16 25
Kennedy 129 88 74 5 2
Miles 180 75 70 4 4
Skip 279 86 104 3 8
Yadi 193 116 88 16 7
Duncan 71 44 39 11 6
Izturis 178 102 85 16 1

So we multiply the number of GB times .26, the number of OFFB times .16, the number of LD times .71 and the number of IFFB times .01 and then add homers to get projected hits. If we subtract projected hits from actual hits, we’ll see the degree to which the Cards’ primary hitters last year were lucky. If that number, which I’m calling extra hits, is negative, then the Cards’ hitters were unlucky. Let’s take a look:

Act. hits Proj. hits extra hits
Pujols 187 182.46 4.54
Ludwick 161 161.33 -0.33
Glaus 147 153.16 -6.16
Ankiel 109 113.66 -4.66
Kennedy 72 102.21 -30.21
Miles 99 112.54 -13.54
Skip 163 168.17 -5.17
Yadi 135 138.38 -3.38
Duncan 55 59.3 -4.3
Izturis 109 124.11 -15.11
Total -78.32

According to this, the Cards’ hitters should have had, combined, 78 more hits than last year. Last year, in the NL, .508 hits was worth 1 run so the additional 78 hits we should have had would have translated into about 40 runs! Wow! Now, if you look at the players who were the "unluckiest" – Kennedy, Miles, and Izturis – they are also the 3 Cards’ regulars w/ the least power. Why is that significant? Outfielders played them more shallow and, therefore, were probably able to take away some line drive hits that other players would have had fall in. In other words, Kennedy probably didn’t lose 30 hits due to bad luck. He probably lost a fair number of them to the fact that he can’t hit the ball very far. Still, even if we take away all of the hits those 3 lost, that’s still 19 hits Cards’ hitters lost relative to the average player. There’s about 10 runs – 1 win in the standings! Is it possible that just getting better luck from our hitters will increase our wins by a couple in ’09?

You may ask – what about Khalil Greene? Was he as terrible last year as he appeared? As it turns out, Greene lost 13.76 hits due to "bad luck." Now, he has power so there may be a genuine bad luck hit loss here.

Finally, it’s been noted here many times that Ludwick had an inordinately high LD rate in ’08. Last year it was 26.3 % (2nd highest in the big leagues), and his career LD rate is 22.3 % -- after last season. Despite the fact that hitting line drives is a skill, there’s every reason to believe that his LD rate will fall back into the "normal" range this season, thus taking away some of the team’s "lost hits." It’s also important to understand that this exercise isn’t meant, necessarily, to be predictive. It only says what could have, and perhaps should have, happened last year based on each player’s GB, LD, and FB rates (not to mention HR rate).

Now, I've got to get that damned computer desk assembled!