Welcome back for another season here at Heroes and Goats, the fifth season of Heroes and Goats at BCB. With a nod to series creator Russ La Croix and the hard work he did in this space for the first three years, I’m ready to begin my first full season at the helm. I’m hoping to match one thing Russ has on his H&G resume that I don’t... the honor of covering a World Series winning season.
Hopefully many of you reading have followed along through four seasons plus my offseason series looking back at the 1984 season through the lens of Heroes and Goats. That said, we always welcome a newcomer. So for those of you not familiar with Heroes and Goats, what is it? Well, before we can get to Heroes and Goats we need to explain WPA (Win Probability Added). So then, what is WPA?
Fangraphs defines WPA this way: Win Probability Added (WPA) captures the change in Win Expectancy from one plate appearance to the next and credits or debits the player based on how much their action increased their team’s odds of winning.
WPA is rather straightforward to calculate as long as you have access to the Win Expectancy chart or graph for the game. During each plate appearance, the inning, score, or base-out state changes from the beginning to the end, which leads to a change in Win Expectancy. That change is assigned to both the pitcher and batter (inversely). The sum of a player’s individual WPA generates their WPA for the season.
If a batter flies out on the first pitch of the game, the home team’s WE goes up from 50% to about 52%. This means that the pitcher who induced the out gets a WPA of +0.02 and the batter gets a WPA of -0.02.
The credits are always symmetrical, meaning that anything that the hitter gains, the pitcher loses, and vice versa. At the end of every game, the winning team’s players will have a total WPA of +0.5 and the losing team’s players will have a total WPA of -0.5, although it is important to remember that pitchers are held entirely accountable for everything that happens on defense and position players’ scores are unaffected by anything they do while in the field.
Ok, I think I get it, now what does that have to do with Heroes and Goats?
Here at Heroes and Goats we basically look at all of the Cubs’ WPA numbers and sort them from the highest score down to the lowest score. The highest WPA score for the day is dubbed the Superhero. The second highest is the Hero and the third is the Sidekick. On the flip side, the lowest score will be named the Billy Goat. That will be followed by the Goat and the Kid.
There are some exceptions. We don’t consider the WPA effects of the pitchers when they are hitting. We also don’t consider a position player when he is pitching. When this series began, it was done differently, but the consensus was that it tainted the overall results. We will track the cumulative performance of players through the Heroes and Goats lens. We do that by awarding 3 points for a Superhero award, 2 for a Hero and 1 for a Sidekick. On the other side we subtract 3 points for a Billy Goat, 2 for a Goat and 1 for a Kid.
Is Heroes and Goats a particularly good measure of a player’s performance?
No, not really. While the best players usually rise to the top of Heroes and Goats, the results can vary wildly. On a given day, there can be some really, really out of whack results. Over time? Not as much. I’ll end this column by listing the top and bottom three in the standings for each of the four seasons for the current groups of Cubs as well as the 1984 season that was recently recapped. You can see for yourself that there are sometimes some oddities and that at the same time there is at least a little correlation between high performance and H&G.
Are there any other glaring flaws of WPA and/or Heroes and Goats?
Well, WPA completely ignores fielding. The position players don’t get penalized for that horrible error they made that led to the huge inning that ultimately lost the game. But that pitcher who was on the mound when the game unraveled sure did. So that pitcher could be sailing right along, have his defense collapse behind him and end up on one of the Goat podiums. Meanwhile, that position player had an RBI double in the third inning that put the Cubs ahead and so there he is on the Hero podium despite that horrible error.
What else can I find by reading this series daily?
I will usually offer my thoughts. Last year I surely ran a few dozen columns urging people to relax that everything would eventually work itself out. I’ll also run a lot of statistics. I’ll tell you that Anthony Rizzo was the Superhero because he had three hits and four RBI yesterday. But I’ll also point out that Willson Contreras has been scorching hot for the last month and then show you his stats over the last 15, 20 or whatever number of games makes for a pretty stat line to illustrate my point.
Is there anything new this year?
I have two ideas for this year. The first is the addition of the WPA play of the game. I’m going to highlight the single biggest WPA event of the game. This should hopefully be interesting on its own merits and also be helpful for seeing the kinds of events that tend to shape WPA and H&G the most.
The other idea is that I’m not going to run the cumulative standings every day. There isn’t that much change daily and so I’m planning to run an off day column that will list the full cumulative standings and also discuss the players who have had the most movement between off days and talk about players reaching certain milestones (like reaching + or -10 points for the season). With the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, almost every week of the season will feature an off day, so expect to see one of those columns every week to 10 days. For the daily recap column, I’ll list the top and bottom three in the cumulative standings.
Anything readers can do to make the series better?
First and foremost, come in and read the column. It’s gratifying to know people are reading what I’m writing. Second, leave questions and comments for me. Discussion makes things even more interesting. I’m happy to answer questions and or discuss quirks of Heroes and Goats or WPA. I’m also happy to discuss that key play or something that happened in the game (of course please also go to Al’s daily recap and get involved in the conversation there). I’m also open to suggestions. Some of the way this series is ran comes directly from ideas that arose from the questions and comments from readers. Finally, if you really like what I’m doing, tell a friend about it. The more the merrier.
Heroes and Goats through the years
Superhero - Anthony Rizzo 47.5
Hero - Jake Arrieta 30
Sidekick - Starlin Castro 20.5
Billy Goat - Edwin Jackson -37
Goat - Nate Scherholtz -27.5
Kid - Junior Lake -24
Superhero - Anthony Rizzo 65.5
Hero - Jake Arrieta 51
Sidekick - Kris Bryant 39
Billy Goat - Starlin Castro -24
Goat - David Ross -21.5
Kid - Addison Russell -19.5
Superhero - Jon Lester 51.5
Hero - Kyle Hendricks 37
Sidekick - Anthony Rizzo 34.5
Billy Goat - Jason Heyward -48.5
Goat - Addison Russell -21.5
Kid - Javier Baez -19.5
Superhero - Anthony Rizzo 38
Hero - Willson Contreras 34
Sidekick - Kris Bryant 23
Billy Goat - Ben Zobrist -21
Goat - John Lackey -20
Kid - Javier Baez -19/Jason Heyward -19
Superhero - Gary Matthews 38
Hero - Ryne Sandberg 34
Sidekick - Lee Smith 25
Billy Goat - Jody Davis -44
Goat - Larry Bowa -32
Kid - Ron Cey -29
So, again you’ll probably find some oddities here and there. Ron Cey had a 97 RBI season and was at the bottom of the 1984 chart. Javier Baez near the bottom of the 2017 chart doesn’t feel right either. But, by and large over time there is some correlation between consistent strong performance and where a player ends up on this list.
We always end Heroes and Goats with a poll. Since we haven’t had any games that count yet, the poll that makes most sense to me is to try to guess which Cub will be the Superhero of the year in 2018? Anthony Rizzo has won it three times in four seasons, so he’s probably the odds-on favorite. Kris Bryant has had a love/hate relationship with this column. Will the 2016 MVP be the Superhero? How about Willson Contreras. Willson was scorching hot and had Rizzo within striking distance last summer when he got hurt. Or how about one of the pitchers? Jon Lester is the only player other than Rizzo to win this award. Kyle Hendricks has finished second and fifth the last two years. Or maybe this season’s biggest acquisition, Yu Darvish? A full season of Jose Quintana? Or maybe you have someone else in mind. If so, let us know in the comments.
Who will be the Cubs 2018 Superhero of the Year?
This poll is closed
Someone else (please leave your suggestion in the comments)