Luck Factor: AL Lineups


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Honestly I feel a whole lot better about studying the American League. It has nothing to do with superior play or the designated hitter. It has everything to do with the fact that I am a dedicated Astros fan. I run an Astros blog at and have been a fan of the team as long as I’ve watched baseball. Emotion is always the enemy of good research. No one is as emotional as when they are rooting for their team. As much as I may try to be impartial, I might somehow prejudice the data one way or another.

For those that did not read my last article, you will need an introduction into what luck factor is. Essentially, there are things pitchers control and things they can’t. The same is true for hitters as well. Both pitchers and hitters exert some control of balls that are put in play, but that control is mitigated by the fielders behind the pitcher and where they may be positioned, their instincts, and the velocity, trajectory, and location of the ball that is hit in play. How much of this is luck and how much can be predicted by looking at other numbers like line drive percentage, groundball percentage, and fly ball percentage.

Luck factor is an unfortunate name for an official sounding statistic, but I can’t think of another name. Honestly, it probably fits because it forces us to find an answer. The notion of luck itself is debatable. Some simply call those that consistently out-produce the average as clutch. Others use the official sounding term of intangibles and wax poetic about leadership ability and extoll the virtues of those that seem to get the lucky bounce at the right time. Naturally the inverse is true for those that don’t get those lucky bounces. They are somehow defective.

Honestly, I’d say the term of luck is likely not the final word on the subject. Believing in luck in matters of production would be like a stock broker basing their investment advice on luck. Statisticians call it a regression model. They do this because using such terms makes it sound like a brilliant explanation for unexplained phenomenon. Great examples are my hometown Astros. They’ve out-produced Pythagoras by a huge margin three years in a row. The law of averages says they won’t do it again, but the law of averages is only there when there is no other plausible explanation. Plausible explanations demonstrate a problem with the metric itself.

Luck factor for offensive players is based primarily on batting average on balls in play (BABIP), but also includes ground into double play (GIDP) and home runs per fly balls to the outfield. Lineups are based on projected lineups for 2011 and all players are assumed to have 500 plate appearances. Obviously, numbers are based on 2010, so even the sabermetric ones are based on what they did and not on what they will do. We will sort them according to GPA which stands for gross production average. Most sabermetric sites have similar numbers. It expresses their level of production in a batting average friendly format. The rest of the numbers are simply rate statistics based on batted ball figures from 2010.

It would seem that GPA and luck factor are pretty closely related. Still, one cannot necessarily base everything on that. After all, someone that has good luck will naturally have a higher gross production average. Otherwise, the numbers of double plays seems to be heavily loaded on the bottom. Unfortunately, there was no other rhyme or reason why those teams had high double play rates. Their groundball rates (which would likely be a good predictor) were all over the map. Only one of the teams with 100 or more double plays had groundball rates at or above the league average.
So, what does all of this mean? We’ll have to wait and see. For the time being, before placing any bets on your favorite team to win it all you’d best look at the luck factor for their lineup, rotation, and bullpen. The Mariners have the best 2010 luck going in and they were already sub-par. This likely isn’t going to be pretty. On the flip side, the Blue Jays might be a surprise team again. They generated a lot of power, but their BABIP is beyond terrible. That can’t happen again. Could be the same with the Royals except they are so far behind they have to pipe light to them.

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