The xStats Awards: Best Starter, Reliever, and Batter

Well, the season is over! This is the second full season of xStats, and they have undergone numerous upgrades over that span. I some of you found them interesting! Perhaps even useful. With this second season under the belt, it feels fitting to throw out a few xStats awards: Best Starting Pitcher, Best Relief Pitcher, and Best Batter. So, without further ado, here we go:

Best Starting Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw.

Not a terribly big surprise. He has the best curve ball in MLB by xOBA, registering only .126 (min 200 thrown). His slider has the 7th highest swinging strike rate, 23.5% (min 200 thrown). You can see all of the pitch stats here.  It will come as no surprise when I say Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball, he’s just about the best in every individual category xStats measures. No other pitcher really got anywhere close to his dominance. While Noah Syndergaard and Jose Fernandez got somewhat close to Kershaw scFIP and xOBA respectively, the gap between Kershaw and the second best picture is still impressively wide. There is little more I can say about Kershaw, he needs to get called up to a higher league to face better opponents, MLB is too easy for him.

Lets take a look at the rest of the top ten starting pitchers, though. This list is partially subjective, I’ve weighted how much I feel each stat is worth, with scFIP, xOBA, and VH% being towards the top, and xAVG and PH% towards the bottom. Taking all of this into consideration, the top 10 pitchers by xStats:

Top Starting Pitchers
Name scFIP xAVG xOBP xSLG xBABIP xBACON xOBA VH% PH% Point
Clayton Kershaw 2.32 (1) .224 (1) .242 (1) .331 (2) .282 (20) .313 (6) .239 (1) 5.0% (6) 20.8% (78) 4
Jose Fernandez 2.91 (3) .231 (3) .290 (6) .301 (1) .318 (105) .343 (61) .260 (2) 4.2% (1) 11.1% (1) 8
Kyle Hendricks 3.37 (11) .241 (7) .290 (7) .337 (3) .275 (13) .304 (3) .275 (4) 4.9% (5) 19.3% (47) 8
Max Scherzer 3.19 (5) .225 (2) .274 (2) .358 (12) .268 (6) .318 (11) .271 (3) 6.1% (26) 19.7% (53) 9
Noah Syndergaard 2.75 (2) .250 (14) .293 (8) .347 (5) .316 (104) .344 (65) .277 (5) 5.9% (17) 17.9% (20) 11
Jon Lester 3.43 (16) .247 (12) .297 (10) .348 (8) .285 (27) .319 (15) .282 (6) 4.6% (3) 19.2% (44) 12
Steven Matz 3.32 (9) .256 (20) .300 (11) .363 (15) .293 (40) .328 (27) .289 (11) 5.2% (8) 20.6% (70) 13
Corey Kluber 3.25 (8) .245 (10) .297 (9) .366 (17) .286 (28) .325 (22) .288 (10) 6.2% (32) 21.5% (92) 15
Justin Verlander 3.38 (13) .236 (4) .286 (3) .375 (24) .267 (5) .319 (12) .286 (8) 6.3% (36) 23.4% (107) 16
Stephen Strasburg 3.11 (4) .244 (9) .301 (12) .361 (13) .301 (63) .342 (54) .286 (9) 6.9% (51) 18.9% (41) 17
SOURCE: xstats.org
Min 120IP, “Points” are from the way I weighted the stats, putting emphasis on scFIP, xOBA, and VH%.

I’ve included both the pitcher’s stats and their rank among starting pitchers in parenthesis, so you can get a hint to how I am weighting things here. The final column shows how many points the player got under my weighting system. Maybe you want to weight stats differently than I do! Go for it! I doubt there will be much controversy over these ten names, though. Perhaps you might order them slightly differently, but these are all pretty great pitchers. Note that I had a 120 IP minimum.

Best Relief Pitcher: Aroldis Chapman.

Yes, yes, I know, Britton had an amazing year. An historically low ERA, even. However, these stats don’t particularly care about ERA. In fact, actual results of batted balls aren’t even considered when calculating these stats. The system is totally blind to whether a given batted ball actually went for a hit, or whether a defensive play was made or missed. We’re only looking at the quality of batted balls. How hard they are hit, where, and with what frequency. Zach Britton didn’t top the list here, Chapman did, and he did so by a very wide margin, as you can see in by my weighting points. However, there is tons of wiggle room here, and maybe if you weight things slightly differently you could end up with a different order.

With that said, Chapman has the best four seamer in MLB: lowest xOBA .217, the third highest swinging strike rate with 17.2%, and of course the highest pitch velocity and effective velocity (min 200 four seamers thrown). His slider isn’t too shabby, either, registering the 44th lowest xOBA among pitchers who threw at least 100 sliders. Using the same weighting as I used before with the starting pitchers, I’ve ranked the top relief pitchers below.

Top Relief Pitchers
Name scFIP xAVG xOBP xSLG xBABIP xBACON xOBA VH% PH% Point
Aroldis Chapman 1.97 (2) .185 (3) .25 (4) .236 (3) .277 (63) .298 (19) .213 (3) 1.8% (1) 16.7% (72) 6
Andrew Miller 2.24 (3) .182 (2) .214 (2) .291 (13) .257 (24) .306 (34) .207 (2) 4.7% (54) 13.8% (19) 12
Seung Hwan Oh 2.33 (4) .213 (12) .258 (6) .300 (18) .270 (47) .298 (18) .234 (5) 4.2% (38) 19.3% (142) 14
Kenley Jansen 1.71 (1) .176 (1) .212 (1) .281 (7) .250 (13) .282 (6) .203 (1) 5.6% (92) 20.1% (164) 16
Zach Britton 3.04 (27) .210 (10) .266 (8) .258 (4) .271 (50) .288 (10) .232 (4) 2.4% (7) 12.2% (6) 16
Kyle Barraclough 3.09 (32) .187 (4) .308 (60) .220 (1) .275 (55) .294 (15) .249 (9) 2.0% (2) 13.1% (13) 22
Raisel Iglesias 2.83 (18) .228 (24) .292 (33) .301 (20) .277 (64) .298 (20) .263 (20) 2.8% (9) 20.9% (191) 23
Matt Bush 2.53 (9) .236 (43) .280 (14) .314 (30) .282 (82) .304 (31) .26 (15) 4.1% (32) 23.9% (260) 23
Dellin Betances 2.54 (10) .197 (8) .271 (9) .283 (9) .291 (117) .332 (119) .244 (7) 5.0% (69) 13.8% (20) 24
Joe Biagini 2.78 (16) .240 (59) .287 (24) .310 (27) .273 (53) .290 (12) .260 (14) 4.8% (57) 20.7% (187) 27
SOURCE: xstats.org
50-80IP, “Points” are from the way I weighted the stats, putting emphasis on scFIP, xOBA, and VH%.

There probably aren’t many surprises here, but you might claim there are a few snubs. You might take offense to Britton, perhaps even Betances ranking relatively low, and that’s okay. I understand both of those criticisms, xStats, while still loving these pitchers, doesn’t seem to think they are *quite* as good as their in game production. Its a point of debate how you would like to look at that, but at the end of the day, but either way you cut it they are all pretty great pitchers. However, Raisel Iglesias jumps out as, perhaps, an exception. xStats gave him 4.2 expected home runs this season, he actually gave up 7. That makes for a difference of nearly a half run in FIP. Perhaps the expected home runs correct for the playing environment in his home ballpark, Great American Ballpark and its 1.18 HR park factor. Or perhaps it is an overly friendly underestimate.

Best Bat: Mike Trout

Again, not a big surprise. Mike Trout is the best player in baseball, and we can all say that without hesitation or debate. While Miguel Cabrera managed to slip past Trout on the xOBA metric alone, Trout’s superiority at almost every other xStat pulled him ahead into the top spot. These stats do factor in running speed, so that is very likely the main differentiating factor here. Miguel Cabrera is an ever so slightly superior pure hitter, but Trout’s speed makes up for it, and that’s without even talking about his ability to steal bases or play defense.

The rest of the top 10 batters are worthy of a few comments, though.

Top Batters
Name xAVG xOBP xSLG xBABIP xBACON xOBA VH% PH% Points
Mike Trout .343 (3) .455 (1) .519 (10) .340 (9) .431 (1) .444 (2) 11.0% (9) 13.5% (5) 5
Miguel Cabrera .355 (2) .426 (4) .602 (1) .323 (30) .426 (2) .454 (1) 12.5% (3) 17.3% (42) 7
Freddie Freeman .311 (29) .404 (10) .534 (5) .314 (56) .419 (4) .422 (4) 12.9% (2) 14.8% (11) 9
J.D. Martinez .316 (20) .382 (21) .550 (3) .319 (41) .421 (3) .409 (6) 12.5% (4) 16.0% (22) 11
David Ortiz .332 (5) .415 (6) .572 (2) .291 (132) .379 (26) .442 (3) 14.3% (1) 20.2% (111) 23
Kendrys Morales .314 (25) .369 (43) .534 (6) .296 (118) .382 (17) .392 (10) 10.4% (19) 16.5% (27) 23
Manny Machado .326 (7) .372 (33) .525 (9) .321 (34) .387 (12) .390 (12) 11.1% (8) 20.9% (130) 26
Daniel Murphy .340 (4) .381 (22) .540 (4) .311 (68) .368 (47) .401 (8) 10.4% (18) 19.3% (91) 27
Christian Yelich .320 (13) .395 (14) .453 (51) .346 (4) .397 (7) .378 (23) 8.4% (65) 10.8% (2) 27
DJ LeMahieu .364 (1) .428 (3) .450 (58) .383 (1) .407 (6) .394 (9) 7.6% (102) 12.3% (3) 28
SOURCE: xstats.org
Min 400PA, “Points” are from the way I weighted the stats, putting emphasis on xOBA, and VH%.

These stats are, I hope, at least somewhat park neutral. I bring this up because DJ LeMahieu managed to sneak into this list. He is, I feel, one of the most underrated batters in the majors right now. A lot of guys talk about Arenado, and don’t get me wrong, he’s a great player as well, but LeMahieu has been effectively ignored by everyone. He won the batting title this year, and while the award doesn’t necessarily correlate with great offensive skill, the two top finishers this season both made it on the top 10 best batting list here, using park neutral, defense neutral numbers. That should say something. I’m not sure what, but something. These guys deserve a little more respect, I think. So, Hurray to DJ LeMahieu, and congratulations on your batting title. Even if batting average might be silly, you deserved recognition for your production this year. You’re no Mike Trout, but, hey, nobody is.

I could definitely write an essay on each of these guys, Freddie Freeman had an absolutely outstanding season for a very weak team, and from where I’m sitting he deserves a lot of MVP votes. He single handedly carried his team for a long stretch of the season. Remember when Freeman had more home runs than the rest of his team combined? That lasted embarrassingly long into the season. David Ortiz had his magical final season, probably the best final season we’ll see in our life time. Yelich had his big break out season, at age 24.  Murphy managed to continue his second half success from 2015 and produce an MVP calibre season. You could go on and on, these are all very skilled and deserving players.

To view all of my ranks for qualifying players, look here.

 

I sincerely hope you drew some value from xStats this season, you can feel free to look at xStats any time you want here on xstats.org. I’d love to know how you you might weight these stats, or how you might combine them with other stats in baseball. xStats were never meant to be a be-all, end-all solution to anything, but rather a different perspective.  They rely entirely on exit velocity and launch angle to determine success or failure, which might feel a little alien or cold when you first look at it.  I hope it offers some objectivity, that’s really the goal here- looking at the game in a slightly different way.  I hope this sentiment got across to everyone, and I hope it was well received.

 

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Andrew Perpetua is the creator of CitiFieldHR.com and xStats.org, and plays around with Statcast data for fun. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewPerpetua.

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Kenley Jansen is the best reliever in baseball