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August 12, 2004

From The Mailbag

Questec, Park Factors and Transactions Galore

by Baseball Prospectus

Confessions of a Questec Operator
Thanks for the insight into the Questec system. If I may, however, wonder aloud about an interesting point you make. If I am not mistaken you describe the upper and lower edges of the strike zone in the following fashion, "... setting the lines at the top of the belt and at the hollow of the back knee only takes about 10 pitches for a beginner to master."

That surprised me. As far as I could recall, the upper end of the zone is not defined as such. On the mlb.com site the following definition appears:

1996 - "The Strike Zone is expanded on the lower end, moving from the top of the knees to the bottom of the knees."

1988 - "The Strike Zone is that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the top of the knees. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter's stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball."

Are all Questec operators instructed along the lines that you describe? If so, isn't this perhaps the greatest indictment of the whole system? I.e. Major League Baseball, in its desire to increase accountability and accuracy of umpires' calls, doesn't even use its own defined standard?!?!

--S.S.

Great question, and it is perhaps something I didn't address well enough in the article. The points at which the strike zone are set are simply reference points that allow the operator to set the strike zone. Can you imagine if we had to pick a button on the jersey that was exactly where MLB wanted it? It would be impossible. After we set the zone at the aforementioned points, the computer adjusts the strike zone the appropriate number of inches to fall in line with what MLB wants the strike zone to be.

--Jason Karegeannes

Transaction Analysis

After growing up watching late-'70s, early-'80s disasters such as Doug Flynn, Frank Taveras, and Steve Henderson, I now say that the Mets have gone too far. I am now officially a baseball fan as opposed to a Mets fan. I will take this a step further and immediately purge Jose Reyes and David Wright from my Scoresheet team for Elmer Dessens. At least I can keep Justin Huber and Scott Kazmir in my farm system.

--D.C.

I totally understand your being propelled into an ambivalent attitude; this was an ugly set of moves. I felt a similar despair when the A's traded Jose Canseco, ending what had been a comeback to fandom launched in 1984 (by Dave Kingman, of all people). Even as the team spiraled deeper into a slump fueled by the hopeless pursuit of a post-'92 title with the same gang as before, just older and more expensive...as grim as those times were, I knew I could ride them out. I figured, heck, I outlasted Bill Krueger and Chris Codiroli, so why couldn't I outlast this?

Anyway, if you survived the miseries of the late '70s--it's always fun to remember some people before they were geniuses, Joe Torre, for example--then I hope you can ride out these mistakes. You still have David Wright, after all, and he'll be worth the price of admission for years to come.

--Chris Kahrl

Did you see this by Jayson Stark? Dodgers the #1 loser? Marlins the big winner? Red Sox the big winner? Mets a winner? Is this a bizarro column?? Plus no mention of the Royals and Devil Rays? What pipe are they smoking on "Baseball Tonight"?

--Andrew Flynn

Whatever it is, I'm betting that Buster Olney has a crop of it in his backyard. Now, don't get me wrong, I like oregano, but not so much as I'd smoke it or sprinkle it in my brownies. As the Greeks said, "enough of all things" (and not the frequently mistaken translation, "moderation in all things"--the difference is both subtle and massive).

Your points about the D-Rays and Royals are significant: Beyond the Dodgers and Cubs, this was a deadline where we saw considerably more gained by sellers than buyers. The other thing I found fascinating about this deadline were the dogs that didn't bark: Billy Beane stood pat, and the Twins didn't fuss over their rotation, infield situation, or injuries among their catchers. It was a very interesting pair of days, in short.

--C.K.

Admittedly, I am a biased Sox fan and want to believe that Theo Epstein is our savior so take this with a grain of salt, but was this deal really that bad? The one piece of info missing from your analysis is the rumor/fact that Nomar Garciaparra was planning to shut it down repeatedly during the remainder of the season (a la July 1 vs. the Yankees), perhaps even forcing another stint on the DL.

There is no question that over the remaining 50+ games Garciaparra's offensive advantage over Orlando Cabrera should outweigh Cabrera's (and Doug Mientkiewicz's) defensive advantage. But how much does the math change if Garciaparra only plays in 40 games? How about 35 or even 30 or less if he went to the DL? Who knows if these threats (who I am a BIG fan of, by the way) were real or not, but I think the biggest impact on the Sox is the downgrade on their offense if they reach the playoffs. Bottom line, not a good trade for sure, but let's not lambaste Epstein quite so much, he seemed to try hard to get Matt Clement or some similar pitcher in return which would have been preferable to Cabrera, but in the end he got something.

--Jack Gallagher

Did I exaggerate? Yes, I probably did. Having Dave Roberts and Minky as insurance against Trot Nixon being out for longer than expected is pretty bright, although it might create a playing time issue for everyone once Nixon does come back.

It's the Garciaparra/Cabrera thing that doesn't work for me. The bullpen's inability to hold the fort has been a huge issue this year, and that hasn't been fixed, while Nomargate at best seemed a product of poor communication, and at worst represents a management failure every bit as terrible as I've hinted at over the last two articles. Where I see an adequate player, the Sox seem to think they're getting Cabrera's bat from 2003 and his glove from 2001.

Finally, in defense of Nomar's defense, keep in mind that, counting rehab and spring training, the guy hasn't played 50 games yet. Was he rusty? Yes. Will he stay rusty? That's unknown, but it would be hard to believe he'd continue to perform so far below his career rates afield.

--C.K.

Rational Exuberance: Snakebit

An excellent first column. However, as someone who has followed the D'backs closely this year, I can tell you that the defense has played a major role in the collapse. Alex Cintron has been atrocious. When I say atrocious, I mean literally horrific. Roberto Alomar has declined significantly. Scott Hairston, as expected, hasn't been good taking over at second base for Alomar. Shea Hillenbrand has been just OK at first base, with limited range and not-so-good hands. Chad Tracy has really struggled with fielding ground balls to his left and with his throwing accuracy. All of this has added up to a terrible infield defense which backs up a staff that gets its fair share of ground balls.

If you can, take a look at what the BP defense numbers say and let me know what you think.

--M.H.

Good call. According to BP's Defensive Efficiency stat, which (and pardon me if you already know this) measures the percentage of balls hit in play that are converted into outs, the D-Backs are the fourth-worst defensive club in the majors. Pitching and defense are really two sides of the same run prevention coin in a sense, but you're right that it could have certainly been pointed out that while Elmer Dessens, Steve Sparks, Casey Fossum, et al have struggled badly, the defense behind them has only made matters worse.

--Jonah Keri

Park Factors

Thanks for the recent article on park factors throughout pro baseball. While it may be a bit premature to ask this, are there any park factor data for RFK Stadium? The old-timers around here say it was something of a pitchers' park in the '60s and '70s, but they also think Frank Howard was overrated because of his strikeouts...
--A.L.

These are the figures I have for RFK. The first number is the one-year Park Factor, the second is a five-year centered average. While it started out as a neutral park, there is a downward trend that says "pitchers' park" by the time they left.

I'm not sure how it would play right now. Last I recall, the left-field stands, which were originally movable, had frozen into place from lack of use, which would create a very short porch. That was from an exhibition game from about five years ago--they may have worked it out.


Year          1-Yr    5-Yr

1962 WAS-A    1008    1013
1963 WAS-A    1006    1013
1964 WAS-A    1024    1002
1965 WAS-A    1014    1006
1966 WAS-A     957     993
1967 WAS-A    1027     981
1968 WAS-A     942     971
1969 WAS-A     964     967
1970 WAS-A     967     952
1971 WAS-A     934     955

--Clay Davenport

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