All of us want the Cubs to be winner. But what exactly goes into being a winner?
Is a successful baseball team due largely to some great stars, or is it a true team game?
In the past, I've been vocal that a good team is 25+ players deep. However, I decided to go to the data to test this.
For this work, I'm going to be using a stat called RE24. It isn't used very often, but I've become a big fan of it for evaluating past offensive performances. While the full calculation is described here, essentially what it does it calculate's a players contribution to the offense every time up. Situations matter. A strikeout with a runner on third and one out is much worse than a strikeout with nobody on and two outs. For those who like WAR, there is a very strong relationship between RE24 and WAR, as shown in the chart below (the guy all by himself on the far right is Barry Bonds in 2004):
I started by collecting RE24 data for every non-pitcher who had at least one at bat in the last 10 seasons. I then assigned a 1 to players whose teams made the playoffs.
The first thing that comes out is that, while having elite players is helpful to a team, there is no guarantee that an elite player will make the playoffs. Looking at the top 10% of players by RE24, only 37% of them made the playoffs, compared to 25% of all players.
Next, I looked at the difference in RE24 between the average player on a playoff team and the average player on a non-playoff team. The player on the playoff team, not surprisingly, had an RE24 6.5 points higher. One way to think of that is that every player on the team created 6.5 runs or gave other players a better opportunity to create an additional 6.5 runs. Simply: teams that win tend to take advantage of opportunities.
However, this still doesn't answer the question: is this caused by superstars or by solid team play. To answer that, I broke the players into quartiles based on RE24. I find that players in the middle two categories are pretty much the same on playoff and non-playoff teams. However, playoff players in the highest category tend to have a higher RE24 than those on non-playoff teams. Interestingly, the same is also true for the lowest category.
What this implies is that playoff teams tend to have better superstars -- or superstars having a better year -- than non-playoff teams. In this sense, free agency can help significantly if its used to get impact talent. (Of course, this is increasingly difficult.) However, the other key to a good team is to have as few bad players on your team as possible. This second piece can often be lost in team building discussions. These are the guys on a team that won't be making $10 million a year. However, their at bats are important and filling these holes in, with either value free agent signings or a productive system, is very important to team success.
Filed under: Analysis