Heatmaps will likely become one of the most popular resources we will have here at LarryTheGM. As a disclaimer, there will be a lot of numbers to follow. If you are a visual person, you can simply engage the color patterns here. That is part of the beauty of the heatmap; the colors can tell you most of what . In the past I have done heatmaps primarily based on the projected WAR from Fangraphs Depth Chart projections. This classic heatmap looks like this:
The beauty of the heatmap is that in a glance one can understand where their team is weak (worst team- Steel Blue) and where they are strong (top team – Deep Red). For example, for the Astros for the rest of the season you see a lot of red. At the very bottom you will notice where each position is projected to rank in remaining WAR. The two worst positions from a RELATIVE value projected to be delivered relative to other teams at that position are Catcher and Center Field. Those that have followed me have been aware of the projected performance gap at catcher; and with the Straw trade, one should not be surprised that the CF position has taken a step back. Similarly, there are MANY positions that the Astros are projected to have a top two WAR for the rest of the season. The overall projected WAR for the rest of the season for the Astros is third. Your Astros team is VERY strong.
Another interesting way to look at this data is to see how events shift the data and projections. I pulled the similar projections before the trade deadline so here is how the numbers have changed in about three weeks with a short analysis of why.
Catcher- went from 23 to 22- Since this position did not change, the relative projected WAR did not change much.
First Base- went from 17 to 12- the projections have been slow to accept Yuli’s rebound 2021 season. With the additional three weeks the projections are finally catching up to performance.
Second Base- stayed at 2- Altuve continues to maintain his good performance
Short Stop- stayed at 1- Correa continues to project at the most valuable SS
Third Base- went from 5 to 2- Diaz returned and is performing better than Toro was. Also, Bregman is projected to return soon
Left Field- stayed at 2- continuing to project the strong Brantley performance
Center Field- went from 15 to 18- small drop due to reduced depth because of the Straw trade
Right Field- stayed at 5- Tucker continues to project to have good performance and is assumed to return soon
Designated Hitter- went from 2 to 1- Alvarez remains projected to be dominate
Starting Pitching- stayed at 12- the Starting Pitching projects to be good but not great.
Relief Pitching- went from 19 to 10- The Astros made multiple trades to improve the bullpen and it HELPED. This once significant weak spot on the team projects not to be as big of a challenge for the team now.
In addition to how the team projects going forward, one can also look at the heatmaps for what has been done so far this season. At the beginning of the season the projections are key, but as the season progresses it may be more important to analyze the season to date actual performance.
This is how the YTD WAR stats look in a heatmap.
There are a few interesting things from this actual performance heat map.
- Most of the projected performances are close to what the YTD performances have been
- Gurriel has delivered the sixth best WAR at 1B which is significantly better than the 12th WAR projected. Which is right?
- Altuve and the combined third base position have not performed as well yet as what is projected for the rest of the season.
- YTD 3B production lags the projections for the rest of the season. Bregman and Diaz have been out for extended periods. Looking at the projected and YTD performance is important to prevent one from making poor conclusions on the actual strengths and weaknesses of the team.
- The WAR produced YTD in CF has been the fourth best in the MLB. McCormick and Meyers have even built upon what Straw had started. In late July, the Astros had delivered seventh best YTD WAR. The early returns would suggest the Astros were justified in trading Straw although one still might question the return. Given the WAR being delivered in CF it is interesting that projections expect such a limited performance going forward. This is an area to monitor.
- The YTD WAR for Starters in July was eighth best. Eighteen days later (15 G) and after posting a 4.15 ERA and 4.73 FIP, the YTD WAR is 12th best. It will be important to monitor the SP performance down the stretch.
- Conversely, fueled by the RP additions and an ERA of 2.03 and FIP of 2.77 over the same eighteen days, the Relief group went from 19th to 14th best WAR. The trades are having a positive impact.
One can do a similar heatmap with other metrics than WAR. Here is the heatmap for YTD OPS for the batters and YTD ERA for the pitchers.
The data is obviously very similar. Some anomalies include:
- The CF position here is 14th in OPS vs. the YTD WAR of 4th best. A significant component of the CF WAR for the Astros is based on the good defense Straw had played after April.
- As a DH (316 PA), Alvarez has an OPS of 0.793; and as a LF (105 PA), he has an OPS of 1.185. this causes his YTD OPS to drop to 10th (behind several NL teams in more limited PAs). Since WAR is a cumulative statistic it is less sensitive to the smaller sample size of the NL “DHs.”
- Overall, the SP ERA of 3.54 (5th in the MLB) is far better than what the WAR might suggest. Fangraphs’ WAR is calculated from FIP and there is a closer alignment there.
Critics might point out that using OPS and/or ERA is not as good of a measure as looking at relative performance as wRC+ and FIP. We can make a similar heatmap based on those as well.
The only significant differences between this heatmap and the previous heatmap, are:
- wRC+ more holistically calculates the offensive value and the CF 8th rank here is better than the OPS of 14th
- FIP is believed to be a better predictor of future performance and the relative FIP YTD for the Astros pitchers is significantly worse than the relative ERA YTD. The Astros need to monitor the pitching performance and use other scouting to determine the optimal pitcher usage down the stretch.
These are the LarryTheGM heatmaps- a mixture of numbers and color to help one look at the relative strengths and weaknesses of a team. You can print these out and use them when watching a game. You will be surprised how helpful they can be to help you understand the other teams in the MLB. Be glad that in general your Astros have so much red. No matter which heatmap one uses, the Astros are a top team in all of them.
For those that have not seen the heatmaps before, spend time with them. Everyone, please let me know what other conclusions or thoughts you have based on these heatmaps.