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March 18, 2008

Prospectus Toolbox

Rock the Vote Contest Winners

by Derek Jacques

I'm asking all of you to take a voyage back in time. Not to last week, or even last month, but to a more innocent time, before my mind got wrapped up in Congressional hearings or trips to the Dominican Republic. Back then, we looked at the candidacy of Tim Raines for induction to Cooperstown. I shared some of my subconscious thoughts on the subject, and issued a challenge: come up with an argument that would create an anti-stathead backlash in favor of Raines among Hall of Fame voters, and win a prize.

All this time, as I was tied up with other duties, I never forgot about the challenge or the contest. When I secured my copies of the now-bestselling Baseball Prospectus 2008, I made sure to keep one aside, and to gather on it as many autographs as possible for the winner's benefit. So, let's do away with preamble and look at some of the entries that came close, but got no metaphorical cigar.

First, an Honorable Mention for brevity goes out to Dan Budreika, for this surgical strike of an argument:

Tim Raines only had 980 RBI in his career. His HIGHEST total for one season was 71! No Hall of Famers can have such low RBI totals! This guy doesn't deserve induction!
(chuckles)

Weighing in at thirty-three words and three exclamation points, Dan's entry really stood out among its lengthier cousins. Dan could have chosen to gild the lily by pointing out that only 17 outfielders have made it into the Hall of Fame with fewer RBI, and that, of those, only four of them started their careers after 1927. But Dan knew that with a crowd that's used to writing to word count, you have to make every word… count. He does, however, get docked a half-point for chuckling.

On to the finalists. Reader T.H.'s argument might be a little too convincing to BWAA voters-he follows some strong advocacy principles by keeping the statistical argument simple and concrete:

Tim Raines' advocates compare him favorably to Jim Rice, arguing that while Rice was an RBI man, that Raines' superior ability to reach base, to steal second, to be a great baserunner, to avoid grounding into double plays, combine to make him as good a hitter, and with defense considered, overall a better player.

Well, if Raines was so good at the above offensive skills, shouldn't it show up in the most obvious of categories: RUNS!?

Here are career stats for Raines and Rice: runs scored, runs batted in, and outs made. Outs here = at-bats minus hits, plus grounding into double plays, plus caught stealing.


Player      Runs  RBI R+RBI  Outs
Tim Raines  1571 0980  2551  6555
Jim  Rice   1249 1451  2700  6122

Rice generated more runs. While using fewer outs. Some will say 'Fenway Park!', to which I answer '1990s big-offense era!!'

More runs. Fewer outs. Rice was clearly a better hitter.

The only thing that's missing is a number with an embarrassing-sounding acronym to bring the stat-headiness home-maybe Produced Runs per Outs Made (PROM), which would be simply (R+RBI)/Outs?

The next finalist, E.D.C., captured the perfect tone for the contest:

Anyone that really knows how to interpret statistics knows that Tim Raines does NOT belong in the Hall of Fame. His walk rate, his stolen base percentage, and most of all his performance with two outs and runners in scoring position prove his lack of merit.

Walk %: If Raines was so talented a hitter, as his supporters claim, then why was he so afraid to swing at the ball? While real hitters were up there taking their cuts, trying to make something happen, Raines was ducking behind the umpire, pleading for him to call ball four. His obscenely high 13.1% career walk rate proves this.

SB %: Second, once this baby of a ballplayer finally finished his slow trot down to first base, he was so afraid to be humiliated by getting caught stealing that he only ran when he was nearly guaranteed to make it successfully. His absurd 84.7% career stolen base success rate proves this.

Two Out, RISP: As damning as the above facts are, Raines became even worse when his team REALLY needed him. With two outs and runners in scoring position, Raines closed his eyes and sat there with the bat on his shoulders, waiting for ball four. His astounding 20.2% walk rate in such situations--54% higher than his normal rate!--proves his cowardice. And when he did take a feeble swing, he accomplished nothing, batting .272 and slugging .393, both 7.5% worse than normal. Sure he "got on base" more -his career OBP with two outs and runners in scoring position was .422, 9.3% higher than normal--but big deal. Rather than try to drive in the go-ahead run, he simply said 'no thanks, I'd rather pad my OBP,' then left it up to his teammates to do the job for him.

The statistics don't lie: Tim Raines was a scared, selfish ballplayer who shirked his responsibilities when his team needed him the most.

It's strident, it's definitive, and most Hall of Fame voters certainly wouldn't be happy with a stathead trying to tell them who did or didn't have the heart of a lion. So E.D.C. is a very close runner-up.

However, the status of champeen goes out to Ken Funck. His analysis is a little long (although by no means the longest we received), but the mathematical mechanism for weighting "fan excitement" looks like red meat to the Hall of Fame-voting populace. I can see the more erudite voters seriously taking Ken to task over the proper excitement value of a stolen base:

Since I work in the IT field developing software applications for state government (Making Dreams Come Alive Since 1945 ™), I thought I'd take a crack at making your Tim Raines dream come true via a statistic that conclusively proves Rock's lack of HOF credentials. The statistic's name is one of those funny acronyms you cold-hearted sabermetricians love so much: CHEERS. It stands for Career Hitting Events Elevating Revenue Score. The idea behind this stat is that hitters should be judged by their ability to create fan excitement. Baseball is a business, and hitters that can excite fans by their play increase a team's revenue through greater ticket sales, improved television ratings, and increased sales of team-related merchandise. Luckily, it's quite easy to calculate such a statistic without having to use translated statistics, as fan excitement is essentially park- and era- neutral (with the possible exception of teams owned by Jeffrey Loria).

I haven't had the time to create a JAWS-like study of all players currently in the HOF for comparison to possible inductees like Raines, but in the interest of time I thought the best way to prove Raines is not Hall-worthy is to compare him to two other eligible hitters that the stathead community is outraged to see with higher vote tallies than Raines: Jim Rice and Andre Dawson.

Essentially, the CHEERS statistic looks at all the major outcomes of a play, and assigns a weight to that outcome based on how long and loud fans will cheer after that outcome. These weights have been assigned scientifically via a study I performed with my daughter's fifth-grade class. Over a period of several weeks her 25 classmates were placed in a soundproof room and shown replays of several dozen Cubs games from the 2007 season. A sound meter was used to measure their reaction to every play. Ryan Theriot's plate appearances were discarded as complete outliers, since the girls thought he was "dreamy" and their reactions were inconsistent with any other at-bats we measured; otherwise, the measured response to each play was aggregated and analyzed to determine a weighting factor for each outcome. That factor could be applied to the career and season-average counting statistics of any player to determine the amount of CHEERS they would amass during a typical season or had accumulated throughout their career. The more CHEERS a player earns, the more value he has to a franchise.

The weighting factors are all compared to the Base On Balls, which has a weighting factor of one (the baseball equivalent of "meh"). A single has a factor of two (approximately twice as many CHEERS as a walk; apparently seeing players actually run is more exciting), and long hits achieved two CHEERS per base, so that a home run has a factor of eight (apparently seeing players trot is more exciting than seeing players run). Of course plays that scored runs generated significantly more CHEERS: a factor of three per RBI and one per run scored is credited to the appropriate player. Some events provided negative factors in the form of jeers from our panel--a strikeout generated a response that was the inverse of a single, so it was weighted as -1, while a caught stealing was twice as bad (-2) as a stolen base was good (one). Note that these weights were consistent regardless of game situation, i.e., players did not receive more CHEERS for game-winning singles or walk-off home runs than they received when doing the same thing with their team down 10-2 in the eighth inning. While this seems counterintuitive, post-survey interviews with the study group members show that this was because fifth graders are proud to have recently outgrown their belief in such quaint mythical figures as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Clutch Hitter.

These are the final weights that can be applied to a player's counting stats to get their CHEERS score:


      Weighting
Stat   Factor
BB       1
1B       2
2B       4
3B       6
HR       8
RBI      3
SB       1
CS      -2
K       -1
R        1

After multiplying each counting stat by its corresponding weight and aggregating, here are the final CHEERS scores for Rice, Dawson, and Raines, both generalized to an average 162-game season and career totals:


              CHEERS
Hitte   Per 162   Career
Rice     1,018       13,097
Dawson     917       14,896
Raines     836       12,933

As you can plainly see, Raines trails both Rice and Dawson significantly in both average and career CHEERS. BBWAA members can certainly argue whether Rice's peak outweighs Dawson's career value, or whether they both belong. But if statheads don't think either Rice or Dawson belong in the Hall, then CHEERS would seem to indicate that Raines clearly doesn't belong either. I think further refinement of the CHEERS statistic (e.g., applying additional weights for CHEERS earned in the player's home park where revenue enhancement can be greater, or for consecutive seasons played with a single team wherein a player earns ever more CHEERS as they grow to be part of the fan's "family") will only diminish Rock's case, and improve Rice's.

Oh Rock, if only you had done more to excite baseball fans. It's hard to picture Cooperstown visitors wistfully telling their kids, "Etienne, I remember seeing Monsieur Raines at le Stade Olympique. I'll never forget when he worked a nine-pitch walk, and then stole second without a throw. Of course he was stranded there when Tim Wallach popped out on a first-pitch slider. But oh, what might have been …"

Thanks to everyone who entered; there were a lot of great entries, and it was a lot of fun reading what many of you came up with. We should do this more often.

Derek Jacques is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Derek's other articles. You can contact Derek by clicking here

0 comments have been left for this article.

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