Thursday, January 30, 2014

Visualizing MLB team strengths for 2014, and the Dodgers appear strong

Because it's winter and I can't actually watch baseball, I've spent some time recently going through each team, trying to figure playing time at each position, and projecting every player's performance.

There's a lot to say about that exercise, but I want to start at a high level.  Given that rosters are unfinalized and I might continue to tweak my methodologies, I'm just interested right now in sharing this visualization I came up with to show which teams I think are strong and why.

First, I divided up the importance to winning 2014 MLB baseball games as 50 percent offense/50 percent defense. The offense I further broke down into 44 percent hitting, 6 percent running.

The defense I further broke down into 23 percent starting pitching, 15 percent relief pitching, 12 percent fielding.

You could quibble with those numbers of course, but that's roughly according to the variation in skill as translated to runs, that we observed in 2013 MLB teams. So, every team's pie chart below has the same size slices for each of those 5 categories.

What differs by team is how good they are at each area (based on the individual skill and playing time projections). I use a color scale to represent that. Blue is good (of course Blue is good, ask Tommy Lasorda), red is bad.  If you're red-blue color-blind, I sincerely apologize. Then, we can sum over (the team's skill in a component times that component's importance) to get an overall score for the team and make their pie that big.
  • Hitting is next to speed on the left-hand side to give you the offensive picture
  • Pitching is next to fielding on the right-hand side to give you the defensive picture
  • Speed is next to defense since they often go together
  • Starting pitching is next to relief pitching so you can see them together
  • Hitting is next to speed is next to defense so you can see the position player contribution
You can get a sense for the flavor of the team, and the strategy it is pursuing. Poor teams are trying to get by with speed, defense, and relief pitching (or, if they're fortunate enough to have developed young starting pitching, that).

Rich teams are spending their money on the big ticket items: hitting and starting pitching (Boston and Detroit care not for your speed or fielding). But teams like Oakland and Tampa Bay can compete by maintaining just an adequate hitting skill on top of their athleticism and young pitching. The Dodgers, of course, have taken an all-of-the-above approach. Their rotation has question marks, but the top is so strong, it carries.

We can also identify at a glance which divisions have all teams at least mediocre, vs. which divisions have some weak teams.  

Click images to embiggen

There are a few peculiarities in the charts, like the standings do not strictly follow the pie size. The projected standings come directly from translating skills and playing time to runs and WAR.

In the pie chart sizing, I am probably giving too much weight to hitting relative to how the current formulation of WAR applies to 2014 MLB, but I really felt offense and defense should balance out.

I'll update this before the season starts, with projected win totals "for the record."

Graphic credits: Cody Stumpo, Feelin' Kinda Blue


  1. You Sir, are a busy man! Two blogs and a podcast......Keep up the good work man. I truly do enjoy your work!

  2. Heh, I didn't write this one (but I edited it). Thanks for the kind words.