Monday, October 11, 2010

A Response to Will Carroll

On Monday Will Carroll had some interesting comments to make about statheads (Found Here and their alleged unwillingness to embrace the narrative over the quantifiable. It was disappointing to see someone whose injury coverage I’ve enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) take such a misguided approach. Carroll is under the impression that Sabermetrics need to be brought to the masses, and I don’t think he could be more wrong.

Carroll is under the belief that the most cutting edge of the statistical analysis won’t ever be able to find a mainstream audience. I can’t say I disagree, but why is this an issue? Show me one instance of a writer saying that all fans need to subscribe to the statistical heavy approach that helps me and countless others connect to the game we love? I would never tell somebody that because they don’t know how WAR works that they watch baseball wrong, but I do expect them to understand that I get more out of the game from understanding it better, and stats help me (and many others) do that.

Carroll makes the point when he says there isn’t much in the way of easy to pick up reading on sabermetrics, but a quick Google search of a given stat’s definition will generally turn up results. I know that Fangraphs also has explanations for WAR and wOBA, and I’m guessing many more. The fact is, if people want to learn about sabermetrics, they can, and if they don’t, I don’t want them to have to. But as I said above, there seems to be a group with a vested interest in me not looking at a players wOBA so he can tell me about his intangibles, because that’s what he’s done for forty years, and all of a sudden, his job is less secure. The idea of a “keyboard jihad” as you called it against traditionalists is not one that is rooted in reality. If anything, there’s a “Jihad” against those who embrace stats coming from those who do not. This is often rooted in their fear of being supplanted by a new generation that looks at the game differently. The reason some take issue with this is because it’s not the live and let live approach that I propose in this post. It’s a kill or be killed attitude, and it’s unnecessary. Sabermetics is a relatively new niche; it’s not a replacement for things like scouting or game experience, we know that.

Carroll uses a modified “From you mom’s basement” approach towards the end of his article, saying, “The Phillies are headed deeper into the playoffs and somewhere in their front office, they have a guy that understands the most advanced numbers, has Fangraphs bookmarked, and will help Ruben Amaro this offseason. The players? They just have their big paychecks, big houses, and might someday sit where Joe Morgan or Mitch Williams is sitting now. The statheads? Unless they find their story or their storyteller, right where they are now.” Carroll isn’t incorrect in saying this, but he’s missing a critical detail. I won’t speak for anyone else, but I’m fine with where sabermetrics is today. Any team worth a damn is using it, and more information is available to me on my MacBook than anyone could have ever imagined ten years ago. I’ve accepted the fact that this is a niche field and Will Carroll should too. This site has 634 page views since it’s inception, and while I’d like to have more, I’m pretty content with the fact that this is a hobby for me (not that I’d turn an inquiring team down, just saying).

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Pale Hose Pariah

I'm announcing that I've joined Pale Hose Pariah, and my first article is up right now. I'll still be writing about non-White Sox things here frequently, but I highly recommend you check out PHP as well, as I'm working with Erik Manning, who's a fantastic baseball writer. If you want to keep up with all of my writing from both sites, I suggest following me on twitter at

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Damon to the Red Sox?

On Monday the Boston Red Sox claimed DH/LF Johnny Damon off of waivers from the Detroit Tigers. The Red Sox have suffered from countless injuries, and currently are without Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis, and Mike Cameron. Damon is yet to announce whether or not he will waive his no trade clause, but assuming he does, how much will this help the Red Sox?

Damon has put up a line of .272/.358/.410 for Detroit this season. His .139 ISO is his lowest since 2007, but is fairly consistent with his career numbers. His 5.6% HR/FB rate is 3.4% lower than his career rate, and if he goes to Boston, don’t expect that to pick up too much, if only because of Fenway’s noted ability to depress left handed hitter’s power numbers with a park factor of 83 for LHB, compared to Comerica’s 92, and New Yankee Stadium’s 121.

The real question is, how much of an upgrade is Damon over the rotating group of Daniel Nava, Ryan Kalish, Bill Hall, and Darnell McDonald? Well, one of them is still going to play center field, and it probably won’t be Nava, who has only played left field in his 34 Major League games. It is possible they go with the 22 year old Ryan Kalish, who, while only having 72 MLB PAs, put up a .294/.382/.502 line between AA and AAA this season. The Red Sox could also consider Darnell McDonald, who has played 55 games in center for the Red Sox already, however he’s been a liability in the field, putting up a -15 UZR/150 in 2010. Bill Hall is a more stable defensive solution to the center field situation. He’s only played 7 games in center in 2010, but he’s put up 4.6 UZR/150 in 145 career games in center. Hall and McDonald have put up wOBAs of .342 and .347, so the comparison at the plate is essentially a wash. In the end, the Red Sox have to decide how ready Kalish is to hit major league pitching. If he puts up anything resembling his MiLB numbers, he’s the best option, if not, the Red Sox should run Bill Hall’s plus glove out in center.

While Damon is a nice pickup, he’s not one who’s going to have a huge impact on the
Boston’s playoff hopes. According to the Baseball Prospectus playoff odds report, the Red Sox have a 21 percent chance to make the post season. With the wild card coming out of the AL East in 99% of BP’s simulations, a Red Sox playoff appearance isn’t improbable, but it isn’t likely, and a 36 year old Johnny Damon isn’t going to change that.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Plate Discipline: The Ramifications of Swinging Outside the Zone

In my last article on Pablo Sandoval, I criticized his lack of discipline at the plate, citing his propensity to swing at pitches outside of the strike zone (O-Swing%). It sparked my curiosity and made me wonder what relationships exist between O-Swing% and various offensive performance metrics. My hypothesis going in was that there would be a strong inverse correlation between O-Swing% and things like wOBA, OBP, ISO, and SLG.

(Note, study performed using the 162 qualified hitters at this point in 2010).

What I found was that wOBA and O-Swing% have a correlation of -.19. This was a smaller relationship than I was expecting, but it makes sense. The relationship between a player’s O-Swing% and BB% is very strong (-.64 correlation), but walk rate is also heavily influenced by a player’s ISO (.38 correlation). The importance of the player’s ISO in determining walk rate is tied into the ‘fear factor’ involved in pitching to a hitter with more power.

The relationship between O-Swing% and on-base percentage was pretty strong (-.42 correlation). This is surely due to the increased walk rate patient hitters possess, as the relationship with batting average was essentially non-existent (.03 correlation). The same goes for SLG, ISO (.05, .04 correlation). Patient hitters possessed better BABIPs, but not by enough to draw much from (-.15 correlation).

Now as any good amateur economist/sabermatician knows, correlation does not necessarily imply causation. Just because O-Swing% doesn’t correlate with ISO, SLG, and BABIP doesn’t mean that it’s irrelevant in regards to those statistics. A critical factor here is selection bias. Vladimir Guerrero has consistently been one of the top players in baseball in O-Swing%. Vlad has been able to carve out a place as one of the games better players due to his contact and power skills. Both Guerrero and injured Braves third baseman Chipper Jones have produced .358 wOBAs this season. Guerrero’s average is 34 points higher, and he’s slugging 65 points higher than Jones. However, Chipper’s O-Swing rate is just 21.2% and he’s walking in 16% of his plate appearances, while Vlad comes in at a league leading 46.5% O-Swing rate, causing him to walk in just 6.3% of his plate appearances (despite hitting with good power). The lesson here is that an aggressive player can still be productive, he just has to provide value in other ways to equal the production of a more patient hitter.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ozzie Ball

A Light Sabermetrics exclusive: Gain insight into Ozzie Guillen and his managerial decision making process with the OzzieBall.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hey I Like Pandas...They're Endangered Fella!

Pablo Sandoval burst onto the national scene in 2009, with a .330/.387/.556 slash line and an awesome nickname. In 2010 however, Sandoval has come back to earth with a downright mediocre .269/.328/.397. For frame of reference, Sandoval’s .311 wOBA is worse than that of light hitting infielder Omar Vizquel. The Giants have managed to stay in the race behind strong seasons from Andres Torres, Aubrey Huff, and Buster Posey, but San Francisco was counting on Sandoval to be a solid hitter for years to come. The question we have to ask is if 2010 representative of Sandoval’s true talent level, or is he due for a comeback?

Sandoval’s strikeout and walk rates are almost exactly the same in 2010 as they were in 2009, so the dip in production comes from his BABIP and HR/FB rates. Sandoval’s BABIP dropped from .350 to .295 this season, and he’s currently hitting juts 5.6% of his fly balls for homeruns, down from 14% in 2009. Sandoval’s BABIP drop isn’t only due to regression, but also due in part to his line drive rate falling from 18.6% to 16.2% in 2010. Also, compounding the HR/FB rate issue is the fact that his fly ball rate is actually up this season at 37.6% from 2009’s 36.5%.

I can’t say I’m incredibly surprised by Sandoval’s regression. A .350 BABIP for a player with Sandoval’s lack of speed was going to be nearly impossible to maintain. Sandoval was also due to be exploited considering his poor plate discipline. Sandoval has swung at 43.7% of pitches outside of the strike zone in his short career (his 2010 rate actually matches this exactly, placing him 3rd in the majors in O-Zwing%), and while his contact rate of 83.2% is solid, it’s no surprise that Sandoval isn’t having great success on the balls he puts in play. One trait that most great hitters possess is the patience to get a good pitch to hit. All pitches aren’t created equal, and Sandoval is an example of the importance of patience.

Monday, August 16, 2010

WAR, Luck, and Twins

It’s only natural that in the sport of baseball, luck is going to come into play. The standard metric for measuring a team’s luck is the Pythagorean record. The Pythagorean record takes a team’s runs scored and runs allowed, and gives you the number of games a team with these scoring tendencies would be expected to win under normal circumstances. It’s an interesting measure of luck/randomness, but it’s nothing new, so I thought it would be interesting to try something a little different. I added every team’s WAR and then added the value of replacement players (48 wins per 162 games, so roughly 35 wins per team) to that to give me their ‘WAR record’. Below is a chart, sorted by actual record, with every team’s Pythagorean and WAR records. (Note, I'm terrible at HTML, apparently. Scroll down for more.)

Team Actual Record Pythagorean +/- WAR Wins +/-
Yankees 72-45 72-45 0 68.8 +3.2
Rays 71-46 73-44 -2 68.5 +2.5
Padres 69-47 71-45 -2 67.3 +1.7
Braves 68-49 70-47 -2 66.5 +1.5
Rangers 67-49 68-48 -1 67 0
Twins 68-50 70-48 -2 76.4 -8.4
Reds 67-51 67-51 0 67.9 -.9
Giants 67-52 69-50 -2 69.7 -2.7
Phillies 66-51 64-53 +2 62.3 +3.7
Red Sox 67-52 65-54 +2 73.2 -5.2
Cardnials 65-51 68-48 -3 65.2 -.2
White Sox 65-53 64-54 +1 66 -1
Blue Jays 62-55 62-55 0 66.3 -4.3
Rockies 61-56 63-54 -2 67 -6
Dodgers 60-58 59-59 +1 59.5 +.5
Angels 60-59 58-61 +2 55.2 +4.8
Mets 58-59 60-57 -2 56.3 +1.7
Athletics 57-59 59-57 -2 59.1 -2.1
Marlins 57-59 59-57 -2 61.7 -4.7
Tigers 57-60 54-63 +3 61.9 -4.9
Brewers 55-64 52-67 +3 62 -7
Astros 51-65 47-69 +4 51.7 -.7
Nationals 51-67 51-67 0 59.3 -8.3
Cubs 50-68 52-66 -2 59.5 -9.5
Indinas 49-69 51-67 -2 47.6 +1.4
Royals 49-69 46-72 +3 50 -1
Diamondbacks 47-72 50-69 -3 59 -12
Mariners 46-72 43-75 +3 49.9 -3.9
Orioles 41-77 40-78 +1 45 -4
Pirates 39-78 35-82 4 39 0

Based on WAR, the Twins are baseball’s best collection of talent. With Francisco Liriano, Justin Morneau,, and Joe Mauer coming in with 5.6, 5.2, and 4.2 WAR respectively. The Twins have an astounding 9 players who have contributed 2 or more WAR already. For the sake of comparison, the division rival White Sox only have 6 players of greater than 2 WAR, and John Danks, Gavin Floyd, and Alexei Ramirez’s 4.2, 3.9, and 3.2 WAR lead the team. The Twins do have to deal with an injury to Morneau, from which we have no timetable for return.

Another team who has underperformed their WAR is the Boston Red Sox. GM Theo Epstein was met with skepticism when he went into the offseason looking to upgrade the defense. While John Lackey has been a disappointment for Boston, and Mike Cameron has spend as much time on DL as in the OF, Adrian Beltre may have been the best signing of the offseason. Beltre leads the Sox with 5.6 WAR for just $10M.

Based on WAR record, the Nationals, Cubs, and Diamondbacks have drastically underperformed their records. It’s easy to understand why the Diamondbacks have done so poorly, considering the terrible state of their bullpen. The Arizona pen has put up a -1.8 WAR.

The Nationals can be best described as ‘top-heavy’. Washington’s best player has been Ryan Zimmerman. His 6.0 WAR is the best in the National Leauge. The Nats have also received good seasons from Adam Dunn (3.5WAR) Josh Willingham (2.7 WAR) and Livan Hernandez (2.7 WAR). Stephen Strasburg is also skyrocketing up the charts at 2.4 WAR in just 63.2 IP. Beyond these six players, it get a bit sketchy, as the Nationals have 3 position players and 5 pitchers who have provided negative WAR in 2010. While it doesn’t make for a good team this season, Washington’s young core gives them a nice outlook for the future.

The Cubs have the same a stars and scrubs outlook of their own, but it’s mostly restricted to the pitching staff, and more specifically the bullpen. Carlos Marmol has been baseball’s best reliever at 2.2 WAR, and Sean Marshall ranks fourth in reliever WAR at 2.0. Unfortunately for the Cubs, in spite of the efforts of Marmol and Marshall, the team ranks only 16th in Reliever WAR at 1.5. The Cubs have received negative WAR from 12 relievers. The only positive relief WAR other than Marmol and Marshall has come from Tom Gorzelanny and Carlos Zambrano.

WAR was not designed to project team wins and losses. The stat was created to give us the neutral context value of an individual player’s contributions, but it does give us a nice overview of which teams have the most talented rosters, and gives us a preview of teams due for a breakout.