Thursday, September 9, 2010

Random Thursday: April 25, 2010, Phillies vs. Diamondbacks

By The Common Man

You never know where you’ll be when randomness strikes. But you know when: Thursday. And today’s use of the random feature on jumps us from the 1910 Red Sox (which The Common Man wrote about here) all the way to Sunday, April 25, 2010, to the boxscore of a Phillies/Diamondbacks clash, which Arizona won 8-6.

The Phillies have had a tough year, beset by injuries to their stars. Jimmy Rollins has spent more than a month on the DL in two separate stints. Chase Utley was out for more than a month and a half. Shane Victorino has been on the DL this year. Ryan Howard too. Placido Polanco missed three weeks. But they’ve finally busted through and are back in 1st place in the NL East by .5 games. Given their setbacks this year, that’s a tremendous achievment, and deserves to be acknowledged.

That said, they could be 1.5 up.

Look at the lineup the Phillies put out in this game: Ross Gload, he of the .329 lifetime OBP, is LEADING OFF and playing RF. Greg Dobbs and his .261/.307/.411 lifetime mark is batting 2nd and playing 3B. Jayson Werth, a former catcher, has slid over to play CF. Wilson Valdez (.232/.274/.317)is playing SS (though, in his defense, Jimmy Rollins was on the DL at the time). The Phillies are essentially using a “Sunday lineup” here, getting a bunch of their reserves some playing time, and resting their starters.

There is a prevailing notion that managers tend to use Sundays as a way to rest their starters. Most Saturday games are played at night, and most Sunday contests start during the day, and that provides a nice excuse to give veterans a day off. Likewise, Mondays tend to be scheduled off days for a lot of teams, which allows managers the chance to give aching players an extra day off to heal. As such, the Sunday lineups are flush with scrubs and 10th men and back-ups getting a chance to show off their stuff. Despite this weakened lineup, opposing rotations tend not to get juggled, and great pitchers get to face terrible hitters. Theoretically, managers are taking a calculated risk that a decreased chance of winning on Sunday will help them to win during the week with fresher players. They’re punting, in other words.

As such, you’d assume that offense on Sundays would tend to be reduced. However, if we look at the offensive output for Sundays this year, it’s actually higher than the league average. Major League teams have cumulatively scored averaged 5.4 runs above their normal R/G output. That means that the average team is scoring roughly .2 runs more on a Sunday than on any other day of the week. The most successful teams on Sunday have been the New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, Detroit Tigers, Chicago Cubs, and Atlanta Braves, each of whom have scored more than a full run more on Sundays than they have overall. Only the Cincinnati Reds have scored more than a run less on Sundays.*

*Here's the raw data, culled from

So what’s happening here? For one thing, TCM is only looking at one season, so he’s got a sample size issue. Each team has played between 20-22 games on Sundays out of roughly 140, and that’s not enough to draw any conclusions, particularly given the drastic differences in pitcher quality. That said, if this data is representative, it can be explained in a couple of ways.

For one thing, players brought in to play on Sunday might be fresher than the regulars they’re replacing. Also, the defense they’re playing against (assuming the other team is also using a Sunday lineup) might be worse, allowing for more singles and extra-base hits. Other than that, TCM isn’t sure what else could explain such a difference aside from random fluctuation.

What is needed (if anybody actually is as interested in this thing as TCM is) is a multi-season look at team performance on Sunday to confirm whether this thing is really a thing. Also, some kind of lineup analysis that is far beyond TCM’s capability needs to happen to see whether, indeed, the phenomenon of the Sunday lineup is as widespread as it is in the popular mind. Maybe, given that teams only tend to carry 4-5 guys on their bench these days, the effects of the Sunday lineup is diluted even further. The Common Man is not sure this brings us any closer to an answer, but it does raise an interesting question about how teams are allocating and should allocate their regular starters’ days off.

1 comment:

Professor Longnose said...

I think it might be interesting to run the study with all day games following night games, rather than just Sunday games.