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April 25, 2005

From The Mailbag

The Flat Earth Society, Win Expectancies, Running Wild, and Baseball Rhymin'

by Baseball Prospectus

Prospectus Triple Play: Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, San Francisco Giants
Could this be the year? In the AL East, the consensus among the masses was that the Yanks and Red Sox would again duel it out, many picking the Yanks to claim another AL East title. In the AL West, most picked the A's to finish a distant 3rd or 4th (primarily based on their offseason trades). And in the NL West, skeptics continued to question DePo and picked the Giants to claim that division. Sample size rebuttles aside, the Red Sox and Dodgers are leading their divisions and the A's are hanging close proving many pre-season (mainstream media) picks incorrect. If things (standings) continue to hold, do you anticipate many realizing the error of their ways and finally acknowledging the benefits of performance analysis?

--S.C.

S.C.,

Given how many naysayers have come forward join the anti-stathead brigade even in the face of a stat-oriented team (the Red Sox) doing the equivalent of turning water into wine while moonwalking across the Charles River, I'm going to guess that the answer is a big NO, no matter what the outcome on the field.

Never underestimate the power of the Flat Earth Society, nor its mainstream media guardians to take potshots at ideas they don't understand while protecting the old guard that gave them access back when ballplayers were lucky to make $30,000 and took offseason jobs plowing snow while walking to work uphill both ways, and you could spot the hitters because, dang it, they knew how to hit instead of talking walks like a bunch of sissies. It will take the passage of a whole generation of those crusty old media types before those complaints become less prevalent.

But as an analyst and a fan, I do look forward to seeing whether these teams (particularly the Dodgers) can continue to give their strategies a good name.

--Jay Jaffe

Setting the Stage: The Secret History of Baseball

Nice job finally revealing the secret history of baseball. But I can't believe you left out the Soviet/Eastern Bloc penetration of the game as juiced moles like Steve Sax, Steve Swisher, Scott Sanderson and Steve Stone came on the scene (Stone given the broadcasting job to shut him up). What do you think was behind all of Sax's throwing errors? I mean, hell's bells, at one point there were TWO guys named Scott Servais/Scott Service playing at the same time...why do people need these things spelled out?

--J.S.

J.S.,

Glad you twigged to the rest of the conspiracy, even if I couldn't list every member. I didn't want to report on anyone living for fear they might use the libel laws as an excuse to silence we truth-tellers. At least you'll be safe when the revolution comes. Until then, beware the Juiced Moles.

--Steven Goldman

An Analytical Framework for Win Expectancy

I just read the BP 2005 section on Win Expectancies. Quite a job. Didn't understand everything, but think I got the gist. Three questions:

1) If I understood things right, pitchers...and I'm most concerned about starters here...have starting expected win based on the situation they face when they enter and the average run expectancy of their team. Thus, for a starter on a home team, if they shut out the visitor in the top half of the first and then their team scores say 2 runs in the bottom of the first...it is NOT as if they enter the game with the score 2-0 in the top of the second. Am I correct about that? If so, I don't understand why you are choosing to do things this way. I would think that every time the pitcher goes to the mound...when he first enters the game or when he goes back to the mound in ensuing innings... should be considered a new game entrance situation.

2) If one simply rates pitchers by (what amounts to) their achieved delta win expectancy, isn't it unfair to good pitchers on teams that score a lot of runs? There will be a tendency for those pitchers to be used in low leverage situations...just because of the nature of their team. Shouldn't some adjustment be made for how much potential delta win expectancy they had? Right now, if Mariano Rivera has a season where he always comes in 3 runs ahead and never gives up a run...he can't possibly be rated as highly as if performed exactly in the same way but always came in 1 run ahead.

3) You point out that your method could be used to compute (an improved version of) Mills' PWAs. I understand that you wonder how useful this would be in terms of player evaluation...I suppose because of flukey 'clutch' performances (for batters at least). Nevertheless, aren't you curious as to what the results would be? It seems like that would be the only way to build every batting event...including moving over runners on an out...into a batting statistic. Why not do it once and see what happens?

--G.T.

G.T.,

1 - There are a couple of subtle points here. The probability of winning the game, assessed at the top of the 2nd with the home team ahead 2-0, is the same whether the pitcher is a starter or reliever (and ignoring the quality of the pitcher himself).

What I think you're referring to is the part of the article where I contrast a visiting starting pitcher with a reliever entering the game in bottom of the first inning (none out, no score, bases empty). The win expectations are not the same for the pitchers in those two situations.

The difference is that a starting pitcher is committed to the game when the lineup cards are submitted. He is "in" the game as of that point. That decision is made before any of the game is played, and thus it's not the same as a reliever entering after the game starts. The win expectation for the reliever must take into account the then-certain knowledge of what occured in the top half of the inning.

2 - You're right -- Win Expectancy is inherently a context-sensitive measurement (indeed, that's what separates it from context-independent measures like VORP or EqA). It would be possible to measure something like "percentage of possible increase in win probability attained", and in some circumstances that might be an interesting measure to look at.

Another way to look at it, though, is to realize that teams who have significantly fewer high-leverage situations means that they benefit proportionally less from having an excellent bullpen. Tactical use of a team's best relievers in close games isn't terribly valuable if there aren't many close games. That insight might be useful to a GM deciding what he might be able to part with in a trade.

3 - We didn't have space or time to exhaust all of the possibilities of Win Expectancy in BP2005, so I chose to focus more on the pitching side, because of the close relationship with BP stats like Support Neutral Win/Loss records (SNWL). But check back -- we're not done with Win Expectancy, and applying it batting is on the list.

Thanks for writing, and for reading Baseball Prospectus.

--Keith Woolner

Setting the Stage: Oh, the Numbers You'll See

How is it that a website so enamored of statistics and with all that brainpower could possibly publish this line:

"53: Score, in Scrabble, for 'Javier Vazquez', the highest score of all time for a baseball player's first and last names, as discovered by BP's Nate Silver. Vazquez passed such luminaries as Freddie Velazquez (51), Jim Czajkowski (51, although James Czajkowski also scores 53), and nine players tied at 50. Ed Ott and Al Tate tied for the lowest score with 6. Positive trends have been found between Player Scrabble Score (PSS) and career longevity; it will be added to enhance PECOTA in 2006."

Although proper nouns are disallowed to begin with, I find it odd that you wouldn't recognize that Javier (16) Vazquez (27) is only worth 43 points. Since there is only one letter 'z' out of the 100 starting tiles in a Scrabble game, the other 'z' in Vazquez would have to be a blank tile worth zero points. The same problem occurs with Freddie (12) Velazquez (29)-total is actually 41 points. Although there is only 1 'z' to be found in Jim Czajkowski, there is only 1 'j' and also 1 'k' out of the 100 tiles. As a result, you would have to play with 2 blanks to lay that one down and it would net 38 points.

Now I'm wondering who the players are tied at 50 points since the three players named above aren't worth what was published.

--R.D. (PSS score of 16)

R.D.,

Let me first admit that I only play Scrabble recreationally, but I'm amazed how many BP readers have pointed out the scoring impossibilities presented in the article. Here's the list of all players tied at 50 PSS, many of whom you'll find are also technically not worth as many points because of double z's and other single letters:


Kazuhiro Shibazki
Kazuharu Yamazaki
Kazuaki Miyazaki
Jeffrey Randazzo
Jeffrey Marquez
Juan Velazquez
Jose Velazquez
Jack Krawczyk
Jorge Vazquez

--James Click

Crooked Numbers: On the Run

Thanks for the very interesting article on the effect of baserunners on batting success. A couple of thoughts, if I may:

1. MLVR is highest in the runner-on-third situations. Could this be influenced by sac flies? An ordinary fly ball that will go into the denominator of the rate stats does not do so if it becomes a sac fly. Of course, there aren't that many sac flies, and also it should have the same effect as sac bunts and runner-on-first situations (so why don't they rise to the top too?), but I thought if you dive into this again, you might want to check to see if these plays affect your findings.

2. You find an increase in batting average with speedy men on, but I'm not sure it can be attributed to distraction of the pitcher. Might it be due to changes in pitching tactics? Perhaps a tendency to throw more fastballs or more strikes, to give the catcher better odds of a throwout, is more responsible for the effect than a deterioration of performance of some kind due to distraction.

--Todd Treichel

Todd,

If we add sacrifice flies to the denominator in AVG and SLG (and still remove IBB), we get the following numbers:


YEAR    RUN           AVG    OBP    SLG    ISO    MLVr
2004    3rd          .267   .361   .418   .151    .039
2004    1st          .280   .337   .440   .160    .037
2004    2nd & 3rd    .253   .347   .415   .162    .000
2004    1st & 3rd    .268   .337   .418   .150   -.003
2004    Empty        .262   .325   .426   .164   -.018
2004    1st & 2nd    .258   .327   .415   .157   -.032
2004    2nd          .247   .340   .394   .147   -.045
2004    Loaded       .254   .314   .408   .154   -.068

As you can see, while situations in which there's a runner on third fall back to the pack a little, they're still three of the four best situations for batters. The numbers above are very consistent with previous seasons as well, so while sacrifices and sac flies have some bearing on the results, there does still appear to be distinct advantages to batting with certain runner combinations on base.

Your second point is a good one that I had not considered. It certainly agrees with conventionally espoused tactics in those situations. Thanks for pointing it out.

--James Click

Judging from your chart that breaks down 2004 plate appearances by baserunning situation, you've got about 40,000 PA's to work with where a runner is on first with second base open. It would be interesting to see how the trend pans out with, say, four or five baserunner classifications rather than three.

Nice article. So often an announcer will state something about one aspect of the game's influence over another, and the reaction is to think he's full of it since he has no statistical evidence to back it up. It's good to see that observation can be correct from time to time.

--Chris Caldwell

Chris,

Breaking things up into five groups yields the following results:


AVG     OBP     SLG
.295    .349    .458
.281    .335    .447
.277    .337    .441
.277    .336    .435
.274    .332    .428

While there's still some consideration that the faster runners bat in front of more impressive hitters, the trends are impressively steady and significant given the sample size.

--James Click

Prospectus Game of the Week: Betting in Vegas

Unless I misunderstood your article, it appears that your Phillies bet to win the world series is a big mistake. If you got 15-1 to win the pennant, that's good. But if they win the pennant, they are probably still only even money to win the next short series against an equally good team. I would expect to get closer to 30-1 on my money for the same team to go another round. Maybe 25-1 if I thought the pennant bet was really soft, but 20-1 just makes me want to put a larger bet on the pennant, and cheer for the AL team in the WS (so I don't feel bad about lost opportunities).

--J.P.

J.P.,

I'd say you're 100% right. And in fact the Phils were listed at 35-1 on the sheet I'd picked up to win the WS too, attractive odds. The teller told me the odds had fallen all the way to 20-1, I started to walk away...and circled back, because it was $20, and it was Vegas. As I said in the article, as a first-time baseball bettor, it was easy to fall into traps, and I imagine that was one of them.

If nothing else I'll have the cool element of knowing if they go all the way, I win an even $1,000. And I definitely won't have any regrets if they win the pennant and I "only" win $580, net.

--Jonah Keri

Bottom of the Ninth

I can't hear that Sublime song without thinking:


I don't Edgar Renteria
I don't Rafael Furcal
I had Luis Gonzalez, but I
Mike Lieberthal

(or ...Rich Amaral)

--Steve Matuszek

Related Content:  Steve Stone,  Win Expectancy,  Tactics

0 comments have been left for this article.

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