Sunday, August 26, 2007

What Baseball Players (Don't) Know About Baseball

SI players poll: "Which pitching statistic is the most meaningful"

Earned Run Average: 33%
WHIP: 18%
Wins: 13%
Inherited Runners Scored: 6%
Innings Pitched: 6%

46% of starters chose ERA while relievers' top choice was WHIP (23.5%)

You really have to wonder why the worlds' sports leader keeps making their top analysts former players, and also why baseball organizations value minor or major league experience so much.

Personally if I was running an organization competing in such a complex sport I'd pick college educated statisticians, game theorists, and math majors to make up the general management team, rather than a bunch of guys who spent their teens and 20s fielding grounders, shagging fly balls, taking BP, lifting weights, and drinking. I can see why it's such a difficult choice though.


Minor league flameouts can handle the player development. Hitting grounders with fungo bats is all they are good for.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Baseball Players, “Consistently” “Inconsistent”

It’s often said by analysts that part of a player’s value is his consistency. This usually results in laughter by statheads. While this might just be because saying someone is consistent doesn’t say anything about their ability, I think a couple other things are going on here as well.

An example of a player often referred to as consistent is Tony Gwynn. Looking at his stats though, he had as wild of swings in AVG as every major league hitter is subjected to, because the stat is a result of a lot of other factors, with a players ability not having a huge part in it. In terms of Gwynn’s batting averages, he went .329, .370, .313, .336, .309, .317, .317, .358, .394 in one stretch. They were basically all good years, so in that way he was consistent. Hitting .317 two years in a row is a statistical oddity, not a reflection of how consistent he was. Now what if he was on average, 50 points of a worse hitter? Then the stretch would be .279, .320, .263, .286, .259, .267, .267, .308, .344. All of the sudden it looks like he went from below average (.263) to batting title worth (.344), a huge difference. But in fact each of those sequences of numbers have the exact same variance (or lack of consistency). I think one reason why good players are also viewed as “consistent” is because they usually supply some baseline of production (in Gwynn’s case it was a baseline of .310 and then fluctuations higher), so they don’t have “bad” years.

I feel like in baseball lifer lingo good has come to mean consistent and often vice versa as well. No one would call a guy who hits between .200 and .275 every year consistent though, he would just be described as bad. But that’s the thing, stats like average have a high amount of variance nomatter whether you are good or bad, no one can really be consistent with such a stat. It’s not a reflection of them the hitter, it’s a reflection of other random stuff that the hitter doesn’t control.

People understand home runs, and getting hits. Since they are no abstract stats, they believe hitters have control of doing those things. But people are also used to hitters having good years, and bad years, and the same for pitchers. Beckett had a bad year last year, he’s having a good year this year. Right? That’s why when someone actually is good every year it stands out and makes it seem like that guy is in more control somehow, and thus must be better. What is happening though is that everyone is looking at the wrong stats to begin with, looking for consistency where there can’t be any.

In terms of the consistent performance of having a 95 mph fastball and an 85 mph curve ball and the ability to throw both for strikes, perhaps Beckett has always been a good pitcher. Last year he was 10th in the AL in batting average against at .245. This year he is 9th in the AL at .238. The difference in the two years is how many balls went over the fence and maybe choices of pitch sequence. He is the same pitcher though in terms of stuff. Does Beckett exactly control what a hitter is expecting, or whether he gives up homers, or line drive singles, or line outs? Not as much. What he definitely does have control over is this ability to throw his nasty pitches. This is a consistency he can control through practice and good training, etc. Those feats are reflected in his BAA, which has virtually never wavered in his career. For me what I find important for a pitcher to be consistent about is his ability to continue to be a flamethrower every year who throws strikes. As soon as he shows up to spring training throwing 90 mph instead, then I could see a label of inconsistent being appropriate. Though it is also possible he could morph into a new kind of pitcher who is also productive in his own way.

Take a pitcher who could actually be a poster boy for inconsistency, Estaban Loaiza. His BAA has fluctuated all over the place in his career, as a result of his stuff being excellent some years and terrible other years. I think there are ways for baseball players to be inconsistent to their detriment, but it’s not something you would notice by just looking at stats that have a high level of variance in of themselves.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Jonathan Papelbon is a real good pitcher (career WHIP/Kp9 of 0.98/10.58 in minors and 1.08/9.71 in majors). But how much does it really help you when he only pitches the ninth inning with a 1-3 run lead and hardly ever on back to back days?

Well considering only Suzuki, Guerrero, Rodriguez, Byrnes, Ordonez, Pujols, Wright, Sizemore, Cabrera, Ramirez, Reyes , Martinez, Utley, Roberts, Granderson, Cabrera, Martin, Duncan, Jeter, Lee, Peralta, Rollins, Holliday, Fielder, Gonzalez, Rowand, Penny, Pena, Haren, Ortiz, Renteria, Mauer, Posada, Thome, Polanco, Ramirez, Rios, Bonds, Beltran, Figgins, Hart, Lee, Young, Sheffield, Francoeur, Morneau, Willingham, Johnson, Buehrle, Howard, Hunter, Soriano, Hawpe, Upton, Kent, Peavy, Youkilis, Berkman, Hudson, Konerko, Beltre, Dunn, Hill, Crawford, Guillen, Jones, Sabathia, Zambrano, Uggla, Bedard, Lackey, Santana, Escobar, Griffey Jr., Cameron, Lowell, Young, Braun, Helton, Webb, Crisp, Young, DeJesus, Pedroia, Young, Carmona, Matthews Jr., Pence, Hardy , Vazquez, Cuddyer, Ramirez, Teixeira, Swisher, Burrell, Church, Furcal, Zimmerman, Hudson, Tulowitzki, Harang, Jones, Kearns, Harris, Hamels, Kotchman, Snyder, Sanchez, Matsui, Bay, Beckett, Francis, Guillen, Putz, DeRosa, Teahen, Markakis, Cano, Garko, Oswalt, Drew, Stewart, Victorino, Wells, Nady, Betancourt, Inge, McCann, Phillips, Delgado, Wang, Matsuzaka, Guthrie, Isringhausen, Maine, Smoltz, Varitek, Johjima, Lofton, Ellis, Belliard, Halladay, Willits, Winn, Hafner, Iguchi, Pena, Cook, Ethier, Gordon, LaRoche, Abreu, Giles, Jenks, Wagner, Young, Atkins, Jenkins, Meche, Okajima, Kinsler, Blanton, Cust, Verlander, Greene, Millar, Gonzalez, Giles, Garciaparra, Feliz, Theriot, Hatteberg, Glaus, Gorzelanny, Lilly, Saito, Taveras, Wainwright, Bannister, Hall, Sheets, Blake, Gaudin, Davis, Lowe, Hernandez, Lopez, Rodriguez, Bard, Bartlett, Bautista, Damon, Garland, Hamilton, Lopez, Nathan, Wilson, Capps, Lamb, Loretta, Hernandez, Franklin, Hernandez, Ibanez, Marcum, Rolen, Pena, Harris, Gonzalez, Iwamura, Pettitte, Pierzynski, Lyon, Molina, Guzman, James, Easley, Roberts, Weathers, Encarnacio, Rodriguez, Thomas, Laird, Bell, Snell, Accardo, Barfield, Loney, Shields, Valverde, Vidro, Washburn, Matsui, Castillo, Scott, Batista, Byrd, Cabrera, Corpas, Diaz, Grudzielanic, Guerrier, Mora, Napoli, Tejada, Lowry, Perez, Vizquel, Neshek, Betancourt, Hill, Mackowiak, Sexson, Green, Kazmir, Sosa, Buck, Hoffman, Wakefield, Boone, Schneider, Wilkerson, Billingsley, Cordero, Floyd, Jackson, Janssen, Patterson, Ruiz, Tracy, Johnson, German, Cordero, Benoit, Bonderman, Broxton, Estrada, Kubel, and Lugo have more Win Shares than him, I'd say not all that valuable actually.

Don't listen to me though, just read this avalanche of common sense.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Open Letter to the Phillie Phanatics

I figured if some blog about a ship influenced the pitching style of Felix Hernandez then I thought maybe my letter here to Curt Schilling and Terry Francona might git 'er dun as well.

Curt, your stuff is terrible. And this isn't a recent development, it started in your late 30s, just around the time when you tried to eliminate us from the '04 players by pitching with no ankle. You gave up 121 hits in 93 1/3 innings in '05. In your big comeback year in '06 you gave up 220 hits in 204 innings. And this year 118 hits in 101 innings. This year opponents are batting .300 off your fastball. Three hundred. Everyone is a good hitter when you throw any pitch besides the split. Josh Beckett has a good fastball, opponents bat .250 off it. You don't have one anymore. Unless you change your style you will continue to get hit.

After mowing down minor leaguers and proclaiming how amazing your shoulder felt (as you struggled to hit 90 on the gun), you returned last night and gave up a crucial home run to Maicer Izturis. Who? I know what you mean. You probably didn't spend more than 5 minutes going over the guy with a .388 slugging with Tek beforehand. You probably thought "I'll just throw strikes and let him get himself out." That might work if you had good stuff. Keep in mind however that you don't have good stuff, you have crap. You have the leftovers from over 3000 career innings. And when facing a team with 6 guys in the lineup who swing at everything, it might be a good idea to throw one in the dirt every once in a while. Since you'll never risk actually walking a guy then I suggest you retire effective immediately and let Buchholz perform better in your place.

Terry, picture this, down 3-2 to the Angels in the 7th, runner on 2nd for them, no outs. Despite having seen Curt Schilling dominate in the mid 90s with the Phillies, the evidence is mounting that he's A. Old, and B. Out of gas. Merely 10 pitches after all viewers have realized both A. and B. you decide to act! Here are your choices out of the pen: flamethrower Delcarmen, set up guy and one of the best closers ever Gagne, a man with an ERA just over 1 Okajima, one of the best closers in baseball Papelbon, mop up man Snyder, mop up man Timlin, or the worst pitcher on the team Tavarez. Now if we wanted to win this game instead of worrying about having one of our 3 setup guys pitch an inning while we are trailing, then the answer would clearly be one of the good pitchers. But that wasn't the question. Since you went with Tavarez, I'm almost certain the question you asked yourself was "how could I most reduce the Red Sox's chances of winning this game tonight, right now?"

Terry, it's not easy to win baseball games. We'll be lucky to be in as good of a position to win as we were Monday night in either game 2 or game 3 of the series. Even if we did play 2 more close games however, you still don't have to go with the absolute worst option just because you want to save your best option for this perfect scenario you are so sure will happen the very next night. If you weren't watching the game Tavarez let the inherited runner score and almost many more. Had it remained a 1 run game you could have bunted the tying and go-ahead runs over in the 8th, and the tying run would have scored. FYI. Good managers try to win games. You are not a good manager. Please let David Ortiz make all the decisions from now on.

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