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March 26, 2009

Under The Knife

Does This Projection Make Me Look Fat?

by Will Carroll

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Jeff Niemann does not weigh 280 pounds, but he used to. When Peter King and I saw him pitch a couple of years ago in Indianapolis, King asked, "Jeez, who's the defensive tackle on the mound?" By the following spring, however, Niemann had remade his body with diet and exercise; I literally didn't recognize him, though at 6'9", I should have had an easier time figuring it out. He now looks more like an NBA forward than an NFL tackle. I'm no carnival guesser, but I would have spotted Niemann at around 230, probably a bit low due to his height. This year, the Rays weighed him in at 260. The team's trainers weighed every player as part of his physical, then rounded to the nearest five.

The problem, however, is that the Rays' media guide still lists him at 280. So does BaseballReference.com. ESPN was the only major source that has the correct weight, though it's unclear when it was changed. That's not a big deal if you're just looking up some info on Niemann or any of the other players in the major leagues. However, if you're trying to project player performance, it is a very big deal indeed. PECOTA, Baseball Prospectus' projection system, uses height and weight as one of the components it uses in comparing players.

Nate Silver can explain this in far more detail, but PECOTA uses height and weight, though differently. Silver told me that, "height is more important for pitchers, while weight is more important for hitters." There are obviously accuracy issues, but there is an internal consistency. Other systems vary in their use of player size. Dan Symborski's ZIPS system doesn't use height and weight information, in large part because of accuracy. He also points out that players often change over the course of their career, making us wonder exactly when Barry Bonds' weight on BaseballReference.com was accurate. It's worse with Kirby Puckett. Sean Smith, the creator of the CHONE system disagrees. "I use weight, but not height," he told me. "I get it whereever I can get it, and with a player I know, I'll change it if it doesn't look right. Bartolo Colon at 185? I don't think so."

There's long been a game of taking a little off the weight or maybe adding a little to the height. Without a draft combine-style consistency of measurement, and without any real reason to worry about accuracy, it's almost become a joke within the game. Tim Lincecum is not 5'11", and he probably isn't 5'9" either. Dustin Pedroia might be 5'9"-if he's standing on his MVP award when you measure him. He recently admitted that he was 5'5", putting him in Phil Rizzuto territory. Jim Edmonds at 6'1" was guessed at as 5'10" by one writer.

On the weight side, it seems as if players are as sensitive about their weight as your wife is. Prince Fielder's listed 268 pounds is the most egregious, but he's hardly the only example of... well, let's call these optimistic changes to a player's measurements. Daryle Ward came to Reds camp looking as if he was "pushing three bills" according to one observer, but he was listed at 248. Not important? When a player's trying to make the club, who knows what might tip things over. Calvin Pickering, the Quad-A slugger, was listed at 275, but faced some weight discrimination when trying to bring his huge frame to the majors.

Most of the inaccuracies come not at the extremes, but in the middle. For pitchers, especially while being scouted, 6'0" is much more preferable than 5'11". Of course, if 6'0" is good, 6'1" is better, though I have doubts that Tim Hudson is either of those. That doesn't make him any less of a pitcher when he's healthy. It happens at the other end, where pitchers over 6'6" have a tendency to stoop when measured. Randy Johnson has been listed as low as 6'9" during his career, though it's generally acknowledged that he's 6'11". Why would a taller pitcher do this? Well, before the Big Unit came along, name another pitcher who was that tall and achieved any measure of success.

Today's sports climate is still one that favors bigger, stronger, and faster, sometimes too much so. While the goal, inscribed in all Olympic medals in the original Greek, is nice, it's also created everything from BALCO to hundreds of little J.D. McCoys on the playing fields of America. The important thing to note here is that while height and weight are interesting and it would be nice to have more accuracy in reporting, this list-which of course gives the listed versions-is even more instructive:

Tallest Players
Jon Rauch 6'11"
Randy Johnson 6'10"
Chris Young 6'10"
Mark Hendrickson 6'9"
Jeff Niemann 6'9"

Shortest Players
David Eckstein 5'6"
Callix Crabbe 5'7"
Danny Herrera 5'7"
Jimmy Rollins 5'8"
Ray Durham 5'8"

Heaviest Players
Jeff Niemann 280
Chris Britton 278
Bobby Jenks 270
Eddie Kunz 265
Prince Fielder 260

Lightest Players
Danny Herrera 145
Luis Castillo 145
Seven tied at 150

Looking at those groups, there's simply no pattern of tall or short, fat or skinny, that precludes success-there are All-Stars and scrubs on that list. We might be able to measure height and weight, but talent? That only shows up in the results. There's no reason that players need to lie, or that teams need to help them.

Of course, I should talk-my driver's license says that I'm 6'0" and 200 pounds.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Related Content:  Jeff Niemann

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

BP Comment Quick Links

buffum
(458)

You're telling me someone on Earth thinks that C.C. Sabathia weighs fewer than 260 pounds?

Mar 26, 2009 12:06 PM
rating: -1
 
Jack G

Ha, those listed heights and weights read like Vince McMahon owns a team

Mar 26, 2009 12:26 PM
rating: 0
 
Evan
(47)

I friend of mine says he's 6'9" (he's probably a bit taller than that), and he weight over the years has fluctuated between 260 and 385.

At 385, he's a fat guy. At 260 he looks positively thin.

Sabathia looks more like the 385 friend than he does like the 260 friend, and he's probably carrying a lot more lean muscle, too. I figure 320 is the lowest Sabathia could possibley weigh.

Mar 26, 2009 12:46 PM
rating: 1
 
BelongstotheReds

Will, I don't expect you to know this, but you've got some loyal readers who are friends of mine at hulu.com. Please use their site and not NBC's to post the appropriate links--much more user friendly!
BelongstotheReds
6'2"/195 (honest!)

Mar 26, 2009 12:47 PM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

Love Hulu and their ads. I went searching for a non-video link to McCoy, but decided that ep was as close as I could find. Didn't think to switch over to Hulu when I did that.

Mar 26, 2009 15:08 PM
 
Jesse Wigtil

Maybe I've no right to be bitter, but seeing the list of shortest and lightest players displeases me. It always does, since it means that people my size (5'6"/165) were blessed with MLB talent. And now Pedroia's claiming 5'5"... he's only the reigning AL MVP.

It occurs to me that this article could be equally applicable to the NFL or NBA, especially regarding accurate reporting of height and weight. Shaquille O'Neal's listed at 325. I watched him play last night. I don't think he's anywhere in the neighborhood of 325.

Mar 26, 2009 13:39 PM
rating: 0
 
Dave Pomerantz

I'm a Dodgers fan, so this immediately made me think of Chad Billingsley (who gets reamed by a number of BP writers because they consider him to be overweight) and Jonathan Broxton. I was surprised neither made the list of heaviest players, so I checked baseball-reference.com. Billingsley is listed at 244, which seems suspiciously low. Broxton is listed at 240, which is nothing but laughable.

Mar 26, 2009 13:40 PM
rating: 1
 
amazin_mess

I'd guess Bills is right around 265.

Mar 26, 2009 19:13 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Why should we expect to get a player's height and weight right when we can't even get their ages right?

Mar 26, 2009 13:45 PM
rating: 2
 
SC

Because height and weight can be measured at any point in time, while age relies on good recordkeeping 20+ years ago in countries not known for the effective governments.

Mar 26, 2009 14:03 PM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

Yeah.. and we're still not measuring height/weight correctly. :)

Mar 26, 2009 23:32 PM
rating: 0
 
Brian Cartwright

Thing is, as Will has helped show with his list, size doesn't mean very much in baseball, so no one bothers to keep accurate records. It's just trivia. In football, a 30 or 40 pound discrepancy does translate into performance. Same thing with height in basketball. Baseball, who cares?

Mar 26, 2009 15:39 PM
rating: 0
 
James Martin Cole

Well, the same day this article was posted they posted an article about how size affects their projections, so...

Mar 27, 2009 07:17 AM
rating: 0
 
Brian Cartwright

Not by very much

Mar 27, 2009 11:46 AM
rating: 0
 
James Martin Cole

The difference between Johnny Antonelli is not very much?

Mar 27, 2009 18:24 PM
rating: 0
 
jdseal

I would like to see a concrete example of how much some of these differences really matter in PECOTA. Sure, most of the examples are at the extremes, so there probably aren't good comparables to the correct values, but take somebody like Fielder and re-run PECOTA with two or three different weight values. Is that a difficult thing to do? Are we talking 2 or 3 runs, or a real, meaningful difference?

Mar 26, 2009 18:36 PM
rating: 0
 
jdseal

Well, shoot. I just saw what Nate put up...guess I should read all the articles before I comment.

Mar 26, 2009 18:38 PM
rating: 0
 
STLbuckeye13

Love that you referenced QB #1. Great show.

Mar 26, 2009 22:19 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

McCoy is not my QB1 ... though I guess Saracen isn't either now. (Resists. Spoiler. Talk.) At least it's renewed and we get to see how East Dillon fares.

Mar 27, 2009 13:34 PM
 
mpirani

Your driver's license says that you're 6'0" and 200 pounds? Quite suspicious, when you remember that this is considered the ideal height and weight for a baseball analyst.

Mar 27, 2009 05:43 AM
rating: 2
 
PWHjort

Remember last year when Rauch came in to relieve Randy Johnson. It was the first time in Johnson's career he was relieved by someone taller than him.

Mar 27, 2009 09:34 AM
rating: 0
 
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Premium Article Future Shock: Florida ... (03/26)
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