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May 19, 2011

Baseball ProGUESTus

Ask a Sabermetrician

by Tom Tango

Believe it or not, most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.

I was asked to write a brief biography, as well as a preamble. In bullet form:

  • I co-authored The BookPlaying the Percentages in Baseball and run a blog of the same name.
  • I'm a heavy proponent of sabermetrics and especially enjoy discussions where both sides can move upward and onward to the next issue.
  • If you have a summary opinion with no evidence, I will call you on it.
  • In the "a lot" v. "alot" debate, I stand with "alot." I also have a son and a dog, so I've got plenty of experience with bedtime stories and leashes. If you ask me about women, I can tell you the one, and only one, thing I've learned.

So, post your questions or thoughts below, and in a week or so, I'll do my best to provide my comments. I know some of you think there are "too many numbers," while others can't get enough of this stuff. I'm very interested to find out what the typical Baseball Prospectus reader is thinking about regarding quantitative and qualitative analysis, as well as critical thinking. Even feel free to unload your exasperated thoughts, and maybe I can placate you to some degree.

Your turn.

Editorial note: comments are now closed.

43 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Peter Hood

It appears to be one of the axioms of Sabermetrics that "lineup protection" is a myth since studies have consistently been unable to establish its existence. And yet, ancedotal evidence (mainly from players I suspect)seems to suggest that that it does exist. I'm wondering if the sabermetric problem is possibly one of specification? Lineup protection (to me at least) is something that is critical only infrequently, existing primarily in key situations and, as a consequence, may be buried under the noise of routine ABs.

May 19, 2011 04:37 AM
rating: 1
 
lemppi

Try watching Brennan Boesch bat behind Miguel Cabrera last year during Boesch's deep slump. Cabrera didn't get a pitch to hit in a key spot for over a month...while the Tigers tumbled out of first place.

May 19, 2011 05:14 AM
rating: 0
 
SaberTJ

I think you're failing to realize that Cabrera being walked increases the Tigers chances of scoring.

May 19, 2011 12:06 PM
rating: 0
 
audhumla
(969)

Not to be snotty, but ... does it? How bad does hitter N+1 have to be in order to make walking hitter N a viable strategy?

I guess what I'm saying is that if there are times when an intentional walk doesn't increase the offense's chance of scoring (and I think we all agree that there are such situations -- #8 hitters in NL lineups, etc.), then the corollary to that would have to be that there is at least something to the notion of lineup protection.

May 19, 2011 14:52 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

I think the issue of lineup protection was addressed in BP's book Baseball Between the Numbers.

May 19, 2011 16:11 PM
rating: 0
 
SaberTJ

This point is meaningless when we are talking about he heart of an American League team batting order.

Everytime the Giants walked Bonds to get to Kent it helped increase their chance of scoring. It's in the book Richard mentions below.

May 20, 2011 07:07 AM
rating: 0
 
EricJ

Why does the sabermatic love AAAA sluggers so much? Year after year I hear about those guys being touted as undervalued. Re-reading old BP articles shows an unbelievable arrogance on this subject.

May 19, 2011 05:08 AM
rating: 0
 
lemppi

Mr. Tango....what are your thoughts on modern bullpen alignment and usage? Should "closers" be used more liberally in key spots in the middle innings if indeed they're the best guy in the bullpen?

May 19, 2011 05:17 AM
rating: 0
 
modofacid

If there's an equivalent chance the starter or middle reliever gets the next out. Who should pitch to the batter? What if the starter or reliever has a slightly better chance?

I guess basically, Do the numbers show an effective usage pattern for season long maximization of your pitching staff?

May 19, 2011 05:33 AM
rating: 1
 
Behemoth

What are the most harmful mistakes that teams make by ignoring sabermetric advice?

Also, how does sabermetrics make itself more relevant - it seems to me that sometimes more and more good work is done, only to be ignored by much of the media and baseball as a whole.

May 19, 2011 05:40 AM
rating: 1
 
Behemoth

As an add-on to this - what proportion of save situations ought to be pitched by the best reliever? I suppose I was thinking about closers by committee, and that, while there is the odd situation where someone else ought to close (three lefties due up, or three run lead facing the bottom of the order or whatever), most of the time, you would just want the best reliever who hasn't pitched yet out there. Is the real problem then that closers should be used much more frequently in key situations earlier in the game, in the same way that the Red Sox appear to be using Daniel Bard this year?

May 19, 2011 05:44 AM
rating: 0
 
Behemoth

Sorry, that was supposed to be a follow-up to lemppi's post further up. BP commenting is hard to do correctly.

May 19, 2011 05:45 AM
rating: 0
 
bumphadley

In DIPs theory, does the variance of the rates at which pitchers give up doubles and triples look more like the variance of the rates of singles allowed or HRs allowed?

May 19, 2011 05:48 AM
rating: 0
 
kmbart

DIPs states that pitchers have no control over what happens after the baseball leaves their hand, yet statistically some pitchers are definitely "ground ball pitchers" and some are definitely "fly ball pitchers". Statistics also prove that ground balls and fly balls turn into outs MUCH more often than line drives (and ground balls more so than fly balls), so how can DIPs be true?

May 19, 2011 06:18 AM
rating: -1
 
dstamand

Following on this question, do pitchers really have no control over BABIP? Are there really ground ball, fly ball, or line drive pitchers? Does year-to-year correlations show that pitchers fit into one category (or lean into one category)?

And what about hitters? High BA hitters tend to stay that way. Does that say hitters do have control over BABIP?

May 19, 2011 08:18 AM
rating: 0
 
bravejason

If a manager's ability to lose a game is far greater than his ability to win a game and if a manager with superior tactics/strategy will win only a very small number of games more than a manager with mediocre tactics/strategy, then does it makes sense to hire a manager who is a great teacher and motivator and who commands the players respect and for whom the players will always give 100%?

You could argue that the players ought to be self-motivating and should always give 100%, regardless of who the manager is, but I think that would ignore the fact that the players are human beings, not robots. It would seem like any managerial tactical or strategical deficiencies can be corrected or compensated by providing the manager with a set of rules regarding lineup, pitcher usage, when to sacrifice bunt, when to steal, etc (or would such guidance insult the manager?).

Ultimately, what the question boils down to is if you had to choose between the two, would rather have a manager with superior dugout skills (tactics/strategy) and mediocre clubhouse skills (player relations) or a manager with superior clubhouse skills with mediocre dugout skills?

May 19, 2011 06:53 AM
rating: 0
 
dianagram

I loved "The Book" ... will there be a sequel?

May 19, 2011 07:03 AM
rating: 3
 
edwardarthur

Statistical footprints of PED use -- is there any way to catch this great white whale? Steven Levitt was able to find statistical evidence of cheating in sumo wrestling and standardized test taking. Is there any method that might have some promise?

May 19, 2011 07:28 AM
rating: 2
 
lmarighi

There was a small blurb on a Freakanomics podcast a few months ago where Steven Levitt said he could find zero evidence of PED use in baseball, although I have the same problem with his "study" as I do with those who constantly cry "PED user!" every time someone hits a homerun, which is that it feels to me like the effects of HGH/anabolic steroids/etc. haven't been quantified in such a way that one could discern their use in any way other than an actual drug test.

May 19, 2011 08:54 AM
rating: 0
 
Phil Birnbaum

I’d like you to tell us the one thing you learned about women. Then I’d know one thing too!

May 19, 2011 07:54 AM
rating: 8
 
Phil Birnbaum

You work for a couple of teams ... have any teams made substantial sabermetric discoveries that would be of high interest to sabermetricians in general?

That is, suppose you have a scale of sabermetric discoveries something like this (your rankings may vary, feel free to recalibrate):

Runs Created: 10
Voros and DIPS: 8
Players' aging curves: 6
Strikeout pitchers have longer careers: 4
Clutch hitting doesn't exist much: 2

And supposed you ranked teams' top five discoveries that the general sabermetric public doesn't know about. How would they rank on that scale?

May 19, 2011 08:09 AM
rating: 2
 
dREaDS Fan

Adding to that & looking to the future, what areas of sabermetric research have the most potential to impact the game ... and what is that impact on the 1-10 scale? (E.g. Pitch F/X-based research ... 8? etc).

May 19, 2011 08:25 AM
rating: 1
 
BuzzingThalami

Are there any MLB teams that are essentially still holdouts from the sabermetrics revolution? I see questionable moves made by certain GMs that make me assume they are oblivious to the developments of the past couple decades, but then I wonder if there were simply extenuating factors I'm not privy to.

May 21, 2011 23:03 PM
rating: 0
 
TGisriel

Studies I have seen in the past state that "catcher's ERA" does not show any statistical significance.

Nonetheless, we constantly hear about catchers' role in calling a game and helping the pitcher.

Have there been any developments on this issue?

May 19, 2011 08:54 AM
rating: 3
 
surfdent48

From a pitchers point of view, it seems that unpredictable randomness or "luck" factors into his results and "numbers" much more than previously thought. Especially since the pitcher is so reliant on things totally out of his control---run support, inherited runners stranded by the reliever, closer effectiveness, "fluke" hits, hard smashes right at fielders vs. a 5 bouncer that finds a hole, etc. Thoughts?

May 19, 2011 09:05 AM
rating: 0
 
BrewersTT

Riffing off of Behemoth's question: is it important that MLB and its fans and reporters recognize the value and findings of sabermetrics, or is it OK to be content to observe and learn?

May 19, 2011 09:16 AM
rating: 0
 
yetisnowman101

Looking back historically, if I want to say something about a player's "true" woba on a particular date, using their woba performance for that date is a little noisy, so its not so great, even thought it is literally correct. I have been thinking it makes a little more sense to look at performances on *either* side of the date, before and after, and use some sort of model (probably time weighted) to make a "true" woba estimate for the player on that day. It seems like most people only use subsequent data, or haven't really addressed the question as I have phrased it. If this philosophical shift seems valid, it seems like this would warrant a shift in how we evaluate projection models too...What do you think?

May 19, 2011 09:45 AM
rating: 0
 
pobothecat

Twenty years ago or so, Bill James said that the only predictor of future pitching performance he could find was K/BB ratio --- and that it was not particularly reliable. Has ensuing research unearthed anything more useful?

May 19, 2011 09:49 AM
rating: 1
 
jonjacoby

Questions about your optimal lineup construction from "The Book":
why bat your 5th best hitter 3rd instead of your 3rd or 4th best hitter? I am assuming it's to prevent the lineup from being too top heavy?
The other is why in the AL you bat your worst hitter 9th and in the NL you bat the pithcer (your worst hitter) 8th? Is this because of just how bad pitchers are at hitting that it becomes optimal to bat them 9th, and at what point would the worst hitter on an AL team have to be for it to be optimal to bat them 8th and not 9th?

May 19, 2011 10:43 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

What is your take on the recent shufflings of writers towards "the mainstream" (ESPN, CNNSI, MLB.com) and away from "the mainstream" to places like TheSweetSpot, THT, BP, etc.

May 19, 2011 11:02 AM
rating: -1
 
cmaczkow

It seems like owners, general managers and managers are constantly making personnel and strategic decisions that seem foolish on the surface. The reactions amongst fans range along a spectrum to "that person is an idiot!" to "they obviously know more than we do, there has to be a reason!"

My question is: From your experience, what are some of the "things they obviously know" that we, as typical fans, do not? In most cases, are even foolish-looking decisions truly rational when all factors (including those unbeknownst to the general public) are considered? Or is there truly just a lot of bad decisionmaking taking place on major league diamonds and in front offices?

May 19, 2011 12:41 PM
rating: 0
 
MikeMcD

Recently I watched Travis Snider go head-first into first base and thought 'Wow, that's really dumb, and dangerous.' And when the usual jammed thumbs and broken fingers result on head-firsts into second and third base I always think 'who started this stuff? Rickey Henderson?'
Why did foot first sliding disappear? I recall two types of foot-first slides. The hook slide away from the tag and the straight ahead foot-first of which I have fond memories of Lou Brock's classic form going into the bag, and popping up ready to take another base. Has head first sliding been proven in some way more efficient?

May 19, 2011 13:56 PM
rating: 0
 
BurrRutledge

I'm very happy to see the ProGuestus series bringing BP's subscribers the benefit of so many respected points of view under it's one roof. (Best idea since BP-Idol, Ben!) Thanks very much for fielding our questions, Tom. I'm looking forward to your answers.

I appreciate your take on three questions, if you can do so without reavealing anything that your MLB employers would frown upon:

1) What sabermetric advancement do you think is the least-appreciated by a majority of franchises?

2) I like to flatter myself that I'm an 'early adopter' to the sabermetric perspective on the game, even though it's been so many years since its introduction and uptake by those like yourself. Is sabermetrics already 'mainstream' in your mind, or how long do you think it will be til it is?

3) What was / will be the tipping point to #2?

Thanks in advance.

May 19, 2011 20:07 PM
rating: 0
 
Jason Wojciechowski

Here's an exasperated thought: there is no "a lot" v. "alot" debate. "Alot" isn't a word unless it's this: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/04/alot-is-better-than-you-at-everything.html

May 19, 2011 22:26 PM
rating: 8
 
R.A.Wagman

Tom, thanks for creating new conversations. Outside of areas requiring enhanced technology (continued evolution of Pitch/fX, Hit/fX, Field/fX) is there an area of the game, particularly on-field events, that have not yet been studied for their effects/relevance?

May 20, 2011 04:46 AM
rating: 0
 
ScoutSABR

1.) Why has Miller Park's runs park factor (from ESPN) fluctuated so much since 2007? How does ESPN compute park factors and do you think they are reliable?

Bonus Question: What are your thoughts on playing slot machines and if you played what would your strategy be?

May 20, 2011 16:12 PM
rating: 0
 
ScottyB

Hi Tom- Not really a sabremetric question, but rather something that has always bugged me.

The Phillies are currently 27-17, which is called 10 games over .500
The Mets are currently 22-22, which is .500

Yet the Mets are considered only 5 games behind the Phillies.

Why do we interpret team's relative standings two different ways?

May 20, 2011 19:25 PM
rating: 0
 
irussma

Most of the sabermetric work I've seen focuses on personnel decisions (i.e. the GM level) or in-game tactical decisions and assignment of playing time (i.e. the field manager level.) I'm always encouraged to hear about players such as Brian Bannister who have tried to incorporate sabermetric analysis into their play. Do you think there are opportunities for players to use analysis to improve their games, and if so, are there current major league players who are doing so already? Is it something limited to pitchers and catchers (pitch selection and such) or can hitters and fielders also take advantage of this work?

May 21, 2011 19:39 PM
rating: 0
 
BuzzingThalami

Yes, I'd love to even know if some pitchers or pitching coaches are looking at what pitches are most successful for them, and adjusting their repertoire proportions accordingly.

May 21, 2011 22:56 PM
rating: 0
 
BuzzingThalami

Ever since Voros McCracken made his stunning breakthrough observation, one bizarre and seemingly irreconcilable implication of DIPS has nagged at me. That is, that pitchers are "responsible" for a home run, but a ball drilled to the warning track and caught is thrown into the same Magic Soup of "ordinary batted balls" as the dribbler to the mound and the infield popup. A red flag of "discontinuity" goes up for me there.

Put more starkly, in one park a deep drive would be the pitcher's "fault" because the fence is a few feet closer - while in another stadium, DIPS says that there but for Lady Luck that same deep drive could as easily have been a harmless swinging bunt, since it stayed in the park. Now I realize that HR/FB normalizations are done in the more sophisticated defense-independent pitching stats (like xFIP). But how can an identical batted ball be purely the pitcher's "doing" in one park, but essentially the batter's "doing" in the other? I cannot get my head around this seemingly artificial construct.

May 21, 2011 22:54 PM
rating: 1
 
Shaun P.
(676)

I've noticed that sometimes my kids make the most random but insightful observations, on things that I completely missed. Have you ever had a baseball or a sabermetric insight based on something that your son told you that he noticed, that you did not notice?

May 22, 2011 06:54 AM
rating: 1
 
BrianGunn
(439)

The other day my wife asked me who gets "credit" for bases on balls -- that is, are walks generally the result of pitchers making mistakes, or hitters being patient? I told her that a generation or two ago bases on balls were almost solely blamed on pitchers. But we now know that walk rates for both pitchers AND hitters are fairly stable, suggesting that both parties are contributing to the outcome. Is there a way to determine HOW MUCH each side is contributing? For example, can we say something as definitive as: walks are 55% due to pitchers, 45% due to hitters? Further, can we give percentages to other factors, such as umpires, park effects (visibility, I suppose), even catchers? Or are those things pretty negligible?

May 23, 2011 13:00 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

Folks, just letting you know that Tom has all the questions he can handle, so he won't be taking any more. Thank you for your participation.

May 24, 2011 15:43 PM
 
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Premium Article Divide and Conquer, AL... (05/19)
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