Can We Play You Every Week

“Can we play you, can we play you, can we play you every week. Can we play you every week.”

Those of you more familiar with British football will recognise this chant. It is one that the fans will sing when they are heavily beating a team, even more so when the team that is winning the game is one that doesn’t beat teams like this often.

The erstwhile fans are cheering their team for this unlikely crushing victory and taunting the supporters of the other for theirs team ineptitude.

MLB doesn’t have much, if any, chanting going on in games, but if they did I would imagine that Brewers fans and players would be chanting that this week. More specifically Christian Yelich might be chanting that to the St Louis Cardinals pitchers.

The Brewers won 5 out of 7 home games against the Cardinals which is great, but it is Yelich’s performance that really stands out. Yelich managed to hit a home run in each of the first 6 games and hit 8 in total.

Yelich’s season to date – (as of games finished on 18/04/19)

7 Games v STL – Slashline =  .500/.625/1.917

13 Games v other teams – Slashline = .272/.322/.527

His wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) is 107 against the other teams and 422 against the Cards. Remember that 100 is average and every single point higher than 100 is a point higher than average.

This equates to a weighted runs above average (wRAA) of 12.9 against St Louis and 0.3 for the other twelve games. That means that nearly his entire above average run production has come from those 7 games. He has a WAR of 1.6 for the season and his WAR (offensive element) against the Cardinals alone is 1.26.

But how does this early season tirade compare against historic seasons? Sadly getting a players WAR against each team per season isn’t the easiest. But using the splits leaderboard functionality that FanGraphs offers, we can do this with a little bit of effort for all seasons from 2002 onwards.

I have taken all the qualified hitters from 2002 onwards and split these seasons out based on who they scored their hits against. Thanks to the aforementioned FanGraphs leaderboards I could get the wRAA for each team, whenever a player had more than 20 PA against a team during that season.

With a quick bit of maths we can convert that into an approximate WAR amount based just on offence. We can now say how well and how badly players did against certain teams. I now present to you the best and worst single season performances against one team. Firstly up, here are the best single seasons by one player against a single team.

This list produced the sort of names I would expect. Players who had high WAR seasons were more likely to have mashed well against one team. 

Ryan Howard topped the list with his 2006 performance against the Marlins, he put in 2.21 WAR worth of performances against them in 84 plate appearances. He was intentionally walked 11 times, was hit by pitch 4 times and unintentionally walked a further 26 times. With the remaining at bats he has 26 hits, 9 of which were home runs. He ended that season with .481/.667/1.074 slashline against Miami.

Barry Bonds has 3 of the top 10 seasons and I imagine if we had more of his dominant seasons he would have appeared more often. Also, Mike Trout being on this list continues to add a certain validation to it.  There will always be a bit of luck here, because of the small sample sizes for each season. However, the top players have generally filtered to the top.

The only slight surprise is Manny Ramirez’s 2006 season against the Yankees. With his season being on worth 2.9 WAR he is one of only two hitters in the top 50 with a season WAR less than 3. He is also second for 2+ WAR hitters with the largest percent of their WAR from one team with 61%. Behind only Eric Thames, who in 2017 amassed 1.31 (63%) of his 2.1 season WAR against the Reds.

So, we have seen the good now let’s see the bad.

A few things really surprised me about this list. Firstly, the fact that only 3 of these players had negative WAR for the season but all basically had a -1 WAR worth of performances against 1 team.

Secondly, seeing Khris Davis on this list during his 2016 season when he hit 42 homers. In that season he had 72 at bats over 17 games against the Astros and hit 1 home run with a woeful .129/.153/.200 slashline. This wasn’t the masterclass pitchers that the Astros have now this was back when it was Collin McHugh, Doug Fister, Mike Fiers and Dallas Keuchel. All of whom had ERAs above 4.3, which was worse than average for that season.

Finally, someone managed to finish in the bottom 10, twice. That dubious honour falls on Juan Uribe, who was more renowned for his defensive skills than his offensive ones. Further investigation showed he had five of the worst 100 performances, these poor performances happened in the 2002, 2005 and 2010 seasons. So, even though we have small sample bias, some of the worst have still made it to the bottom.

We know what is good and  bad, but how does Christian Yelich’s 2019 against the Cards stack up? The histogram below shows all of the single season WAR performances for qualified hitters from 2002 onwards, Yelich’s 1.26 WAR is significantly far up the right tail of this distribution.

In fact, it is 75th on this list which puts it in the 99.7th percentile but it isn’t even Yelich’s best. He posted 1.61 WAR against the Reds last season which was good enough for 13th overall.

This season versus the Cards is the highest by any player with 32 or fewer plate appearances and with 12 games remaining against St Louis this season, he stands a chance of breaking the record.

To do so he would require another 1 WAR, which equates to about 10 wRAA. How achievable is that?

If he averages 4.33 PA for each of those 12 games he would need to get an average 0.192 wRAA for each PA. That equates to a wOBA of 0.547 over 12 games. Please note that Betts and Trout had wOBAs of .449 and .447 respectively last season so it would be difficult, but given that Cody Bellinger is still at .567 for this season it is definitely possible.

Yelich and the Brewers have 3 more games against the Cards on the 22nd – 24th April. So we can see how much progress he will have made in those match-ups, after that we will have to wait until August.

It is possible, quite unlikely, but possible that Yelich can have the greatest single season ever against a team since 2002. Here’s hoping he does.


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