Whom to Root for in the Playoffs

This week I covered a lot of Red Sox stuff. (And I received some great feedback from people, so maybe more baseball-related stats things will be forthcoming.) But, since it is Friday, I wanted to keep today late. So over breakfast I worked on a flowchart to help you choose whom to root for in the playoffs now that Boston, Colorado, Arizona, Minnesota, Washington, and Cleveland have all been eliminated.

To be fair, my second choice was good old Terry Francona and the Indians (like last year). But, the Evil Empire is returning.

Happy Friday, all.

But did you catch the overarching theme?
But did you catch the overarching theme?

Power Sapped

Following on yesterday’s post about the Red Sox offence, I wanted to follow up and look into their power numbers. So here we have a smaller scale graphic. Nothing too fancy, but the data backs what my eyes saw all year. A definite power drain up and down the Red Sox lineup in 2017.

Where did all the power go?
Where did all the power go?

A Brief Review of the Boston Red Sox Season

Well the 2017 season ended yesterday afternoon for my Boston Red Sox as we lost 5–4 to the Houston Astros and they took Game 4 of the ALDS. So this morning we will surely see the critiques and hot takes on what to do to improve the team begin to make the internet rounds.

But before we get into all of that, I wanted to take a look at the 2017 season from a data perspective. At least, the regular season. After all, we can see how Sale in Game 1 and Kimbrel in Game 4 just had poorly timed bad days. But what about the other 162 games? After all, we will need to win a lot of them if we want to make it back to the playoffs in 2018.

I just pulled a couple quick stats from Baseball Reference. Now we can quibble about which stats are best another time, but from my experience the more sabremetric datapoints are lost on a general audience. So here we are using OPS, basically a hitter’s average combined with his power/slugging ability, and ERA, the amount of runs a pitcher can be expected to allow every nine innings. I also threw in defensive runs saved above average, i.e. is the player saving more runs than an average player.

You can read the graphic for the details, but the takeaway is that Boston, we need not panic. The 2017 Red Sox were a good team. Far from perfect—here is looking at you lack of middle-of-the-order power—but a solid lineup, good rotation, good defence, and a fantastic bullpen. How can we add without subtracting too much?

Overall, not a bad team
Overall, not a bad team

The Best Rivalry Is Back

But to be honest, it never really went anywhere. As you know, your humble author visited Boston this past weekend and got to see two games of his Red Sox against Tampa Bay. Tampa, of course, is not the rivalry to which I am referring, but things were heated back in the days when Maddon managed Tampa.

No, I am of course talking about the Red Sox–Yankees rivalry. Two weeks ago FiveThirtyEight posted an article about the rivalry and how it has returned. Admittedly, they meant not from the perspective of bitter hatred for all things Yankees, but rather that the Yankees are attempting to be good again.

This chart from the article is nothing more than a line chart. But I just wanted to point out that the rivalry lives, though in my mind it never really went away.

Down with the Empire…
Down with the Empire…

Credit for the piece goes to the FiveThirtyEight graphics department.

Beating Ted Williams

Last week the Red Sox’s season came to an end after being swept by the Cleveland Indians and with the sweep so too ended David Ortiz’s career. He is one of the best Red Sox hitters of all time, but Ted Williams was the best. And so last week FiveThirtyEight ran a piece on how one manager from the Cleveland Indians—hence the relevance, right?—beat Ted Williams by “inventing” what we all know in baseball as the shift.

The below photo comes from the game and shows what we baseball fans now think of as routine was at the time almost brand new. (Although to be fair, the shift in this case left only one fielder on the left side of the field—the left fielder. Typically today both the shortstop and left fielder both remain.) Anyway, for those baseball fans, the article is worth a quick read.

Who's on first? Not Ted Williams after his at bat.
Who’s on first? Not Ted Williams after his at bat.

Credit for the piece goes to an unknown photographer ca. 1946.

Pill Popping Power

But not likely. As this FiveThirtyEight piece explains, steroids are not likely the cause of the increased power exhibited this year by Major League Baseball. The article goes into a bit of detail, but this set of small multiples does a nice job comparing several other factors that could be at play.

How different factors increased power or not
How different factors increased power or not

What I like about the piece is how each line chart is centred on the year where the factor came into play. And then to the right and left are ten years before and after. Maybe a little bit more could have been done to highlight the differing years—I admit that I missed that at first—but the concept itself is solid.

Credit for the piece goes to the FiveThirtyEight graphics department.

Miniature Ball Fields

Last week Jackie Bradley Jr., the starting centerfielder for the Boston Red Sox, saw his hit-streak end at 29 games. For those of you who do not follow baseball, that means he hit the ball and reached first base safely without causing an out for 29 games in a row. Quite a feat. Anyway, because it is a feat, the story gets covered and in this case, by the Boston Globe.

They wrote several articles on Bradley and the hit streak, but this one included a small, interactive graphic that mapped out his hits. Because a streak exists over time, the component includes a slider to show how the hits have progressed.

Bradley hit to all parts of the field
Bradley hit to all parts of the field

Worth keeping in mind that this was merely a sidebar graphic, not a large and fully immersive piece. The piece itself features only a few tables detailing baseball data comparisons, but it exists in a new design layout from the Globe featuring bigger, glossier photographs. Not all graphics need to be the biggest element on the page. From a pacing perspective, it sometimes helps to have a small graphic placed next to the important text to provide immediate context. Speaking of context…

The graphic in the context of the page
The graphic in the context of the page

Overall, a very nice piece.

Credit for the piece goes to the Boston Globe graphics department.

Don’t Go, Big Papi

Today’s graphic is not terribly complicated, but it is near and dear to Boston Red Sox fans. This is David Ortiz’s final year as he announced his retirement at the year’s outset. And of so course FiveThirtyEight examined Big Papi’s chances of getting into the Hall of Fame.

Please don't go…
Please don’t go…

Credit for the piece goes to Rob Arthur.

Pedro Martinez Was A Great Pitcher

Last week FiveThirtyEight posted a nice article about the best pitchers in baseball. Turns out Pedro Martinez rates pretty highly among them. The late 90s and early 00s were great for Red Sox pitching.

Pedro was great
Pedro was great

Credit for the piece goes to Neil Paine and Jay Boice.

A Royal Nation

You may recall a year and a half ago a post I wrote up about a New York Times piece looking at the fandoms of baseball in the United States. Well fresh off their hometown Royals’ World Series victory, the folks at the Kansas City Star revisited the graphic—driven by Facebook likes—to see if there had been any change. Sure enough, Royals Nation—or whatever they call it—has made inroads into what was before St. Louis Cardinals territory.

Missouri is a little more blue these days
Missouri is a little more blue these days

The only sad part about the article is that they talk of changes in adjacent states, e.g. Kansas, but have no maps for those.

Credit for the piece goes to Jay Pilgreen.