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January 22, 2004

Breaking Balls

The Skinny

by Derek Zumsteg

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Bulk in baseball is a source of constant amusement. Just think about late-career Cecil Fielder, or the guy who ate Mo Vaughn. How amusing was it to watch those bulky fellows try to move around the basepaths? And yet, for too long this has been a neglected area of research. Until now. Today, Baseball Prospectus proudly presents VORPSkin, a new innovation in performance analysis that attempts to answer the questions "Who is the biggest waste of skin in baseball?" and "What happens when Keith Woolner gets really bored during the off-season?"

First, you look at the height and weight of players. Shortest players...Donnie Sadler, Quinton McCracken, Jimmy Rollins, Aaron Miles, David Eckstein, Augie Ojeda. Tallest players like Jason Davis, Luis Martinez, John Lackey, Jon Garland... We found no strong correlation between height and performance.

Then what about weight? The lightest guys: Omar Infante, Ramon Santiago, Ranier Olmedo, Odalis Perez versus the heaviest guys Frank Thomas, Mo Vaughn, Charles Johnson, Jeff D'Amico, Cliff Floyd (with those leg problems, wouldn't it be smart to...oh, what do I know?), Mo Vaughn's other half… again, no strong correlation between weight and performance.

We can already see we're going to have problems: because the information on player vitals is wrong (Eckstein, for instance, is listed at 5'10" which means, if I'm doing my math right, that I'm 11'8"), we do see that even for the tweaks made to the facts, overall those guys are pretty much the shortest, or tallest, or lightest, or heaviest, so I'm confident as we move on with our work.

But what about area? Depending on your definition of "organ" your skin's the heaviest organ in your body, with a mass of about 4-5 kilograms, and a surface area of 1-2 meters. That's a lot of skin, and one has to wonder if skin, by more efficiently dissipating heat (and so forth) can affect a player's performance. Using highly sophisticated formulas to estimate the square inches of skin based on the height and weight of each player, Keith went to work on this important question:

I computed the cumulative percentile for each player's skin size relative to all other major league players in 2003. I.e. the player with the least skin is in the 1st percentile, the player with the median amount of skin is in the 50th percentile, etc. I called this the player's "skintile".

I multiplied a player's VORP by his skintile, then ranked players based on the cumulative percentile of that value. The most efficient player in VORP/skintile (or VORPSkin) has a rating of 100, the least efficient (and hence the biggest waste of skin) has a VORPSkin close to zero.
And the most efficient uses of skin were...

NAME            VORP  SKIN  SKINTILE VORPSKIN
Ichiro Suzuki   35.8  1.88      0.9    100.0
Rafael Furcal   49.0  1.92      2.3     99.9
Jimmy Rollins   14.1  1.89      1.1     99.8
Rey Ordonez      8.0  1.87      0.7     99.7
Jose Reyes      18.5  1.92      1.7     99.5
Chone Figgins    4.6  1.85      0.5     99.4
Marcus Giles    64.7  1.98      6.9     99.3
Alex Sanchez     9.5  1.89      1.0     99.2
Placido Polanco 29.7  1.94      3.5     99.1
Bill Mueller    60.1  2.01     12.2     99.0
Tike Redman     17.8  1.94      3.6     98.9
Scott Podsednik 43.2  1.99      9.1     98.8
Ray Durham      32.1  1.98      6.9     98.6
Corey Patterson 23.9  1.96      6.2     98.5
Brian Roberts   13.3  1.95      3.7     98.4
Bret Boone      75.8  2.06     21.6     98.3
Edgar Renteria  63.3  2.05     20.3     98.2
Melvin Mora     37.9  2.01     12.2     98.1
Alfonso Soriano 59.2  2.05     20.3     98.0

I never suspected Rey Ordonez would ever turn up in the Top 5 of anything. This does confirm something I'd long thought, though--pound for pound, Ichiro! is the best value for your baseball dollar. And having seen Ichiro pretty close, he's got great skin, too. Boone and Renteria both slug their way on despite being relatively bulky for infielders.

The really surprising table, though, is this:

Least efficient use of skin


NAME                 VORP    SKIN  SKINTILE VORPSKIN
Nick Punto           -4.2    1.94     3.4     2.0
Andres Torres        -9.4    1.98     7.5     1.9
John McDonald       -12.7    1.99    10.1     1.8
Alfredo Amezaga      -3.1    1.92     2.3     1.7
Willie Harris        -8.8    1.96     6.2     1.6
Wilson Delgado       -4.7    1.93     3.2     1.5
Ramon Nivar          -6.3    1.95     4.2     1.4
Hiram Bocachica      -5.3    1.93     3.2     1.2
Endy Chavez          -8.2    1.96     4.9     1.1
Timoniel Perez       -3.2    1.92     1.8     1.0
Donnie Sadler        -7.7    1.92     2.3     0.9
Tony Womack         -15.3    1.94     3.4     0.8
Quinton McCracken   -12.5    1.92     2.6     0.7
Odalis Perez         -3.1    1.87     0.6     0.6
Shane Victorino      -8.1    1.88     0.9     0.5
Rainer Olmedo        -9.4    1.84     0.3     0.3
Ramon Santiago      -10.9    1.84     0.3     0.2
Omar Infante         -8.9    1.82     0.1     0.1
Some of the smallest players were also the worst performers by this metric. The only reasonably bulky players on here are John McDonald and Andres Torres.

Overall, though, besides providing some useful heckling material, there turns out to be no significant correlation between a player's area of skin. Still, if every study could produce such quality heckling material, I have to think the world would be a more amusing place to attend a ballgame.

Related Content:  Andres Torres

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