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Chat: Colin Wyers

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Thursday August 12, 2010 1:00 PM ET chat session with Colin Wyers.

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Want answers to your heavier sabermetric questions? Then check in with Colin Wyers in today's chat.

Colin Wyers: I'd like to buy a vowel.

Joe Bivens (SEMASS): Hey.

Colin Wyers: Hey!

Verite (LA): What's your favorite baseball movie?

Colin Wyers: Probably "Major League."

scottyb (chillin'): Have you seen the series of articles on si.com regarding defensive stats (Posnanski's and Sheehan's articles were predictably excellent)? What are your thoughts about such a mainstream media outlet making such thoughtful use of these?

Colin Wyers: Honestly, I wasn't all that impressed with Posnanski's article. It seemed to me a very uncritical platform for John Dewan to say the same thing Dewan has been saying for years. I kept having deja vu to Fielding Bible marketing literature. Now Dewan's a smart guy and he's been doing this forever. But there are a lot of smart, experienced guys tracking batted balls. And I don't think any of them have shown that they've overcome the rather substantial problems in that enterprise.

Bob (Seattle): Have you been able to determine the amount of error potentially in defensive stats due to the "fliner" issue? Also, are there stats that measure the ability of an outfielder to prevent the extra base? i.e. hold a batter to a single instead of a double due to cutting off a ball in the gap?

Colin Wyers: It's really hard to seperate out a lot of the different effects on batted ball scoring and say, "this is attributable to observer positioning bias in batted ball scoring." And any conclusions one can make about one data set don't necessarily translate directly to a different data set collected under different conditions.

Matt (IL): Do individual teams install technology to track spin of the ball off the bat? What kind of a Pandora's box of analysis would that open up if it was publicly availale?

Colin Wyers: It's possible that some are. That data isn't being made available publicly.

Foghorn Leghorn (Barnyard): At SABR 40 this past weekend, it became apparent that Vertical Launch Angles of BIP are available. Presuming my understanding is correct, I say, I say, I say, shouldn't it be easy enough to simply state that a line drive is a BIP with a VLA of 10-16 degrees, and a FB 16-30 deg and a Popup 31-45 deg? Wouldn't that largely eliminate much of these scoring biases, and moreover, instead of presuming bias, couldn't we "back check" BIP called LD/FB by their VLA?

Colin Wyers: Well, without batted ball spin, it's hard to say that with any degree of confidence. I don't think anyone who's publishing their results has enough data to do that sort of work. And if you really have a lot of that launch data, why would you make it less useful by arbitrarily categorizing it?

Mike (PA): I think this is worth a full column, but it seems like you are initiating a number of exciting developments with the BP stats section. Could you give us the highlights about what great new things we should expect?

Colin Wyers: Yeah, we're working on rolling out new stat reports, both for the sortables and the cards. We've announced a new version of TAv and a new fielding metric. Next, we'll be rolling out updated VORP and WARP for position players. Then we're going to tackle pitching metrics, and I think people will be happy with some of the changes we're making there, too. It's going to add up to a lot of change in a short period of time - at some point soon I'm going to have to start transitioning to working on PECOTA for next season. So I'm really trying to hit a lot of this stuff in a short period of time.

Will (Mactaquac): K-Rod. Please discuss. Please assuage my twin fears: that I'm going to be without my best closer for the fantasy playoffs and that I'm selfishly, selfishly worried about that when his wife and son saw him assault Dad/Grampa.

Colin Wyers: I don't know enough to say how much time (if any) he'll miss. It's a really, really bizarre incident, though. Really don't know what to think of it.

Jeff Francouer (Citifield Holding Pen): How much am I worth to the Mets?

Colin Wyers: Francoeur's ability to provide value to the Mets pretty much ended on July 31st, the deadline for NPB teams to add players.

BillJ (New Mexico): On a non-BP site that I will not name, there was recently a big tout for Andruw Jones as a Hall of Famer based on his supposedly glorious defense. Oh sabermetric one, could you explain how one reconciles Jone's overwhelming defensive rep (and make no mistake, I agree he was good, just not *that* good) with the fact that his teams routinely got fewer outs on fly balls than most of their competitors? Thanks.

Colin Wyers: I have Andruw Jones with the 9th most runs above average of any center fielder from 1952 on. He made a lot of plays.

Bob (DC): Has there been any studies on PECOTA to see if PECOTA does a better job of predicting future performance of minor leaguers than say a purely scouting based process such as KG's analysis or Baseball America?

Colin Wyers: None that I know of. It'a a bit tricky - pure scouting data is typically qualitative, not quantitative. The other thing to recognize is that PECOTA (and any projection system that uses minor league data) relies on selective sampling - teams utilize scouting data as one of their inputs to decide who to promote. So PECOTA actually (in a roundabout way) relies on that sort of scouting assesment.

Taco Salad (Spaceball City): which current baseball player is capable of wrestling a bear to a draw or better result?

Colin Wyers: Ted Lilly.

dianagramr (NYC): Who are the 8 CFs ahead of Jones on that list? Griffey, Blair, Maddox, Devon White?

Colin Wyers: Blair, Mays, Lemon, Flood, Busby, North, Maddox, White.

Josip Broz Tito Fuentes (House of Flowers): Wither Jeff Samardžija? Starter, pen, swingman extraordinaire?

Colin Wyers: It's hard to say. Reportedly he's added a new pitch, and getting good results with it. I don't know how much of that is correlation and how much is causation. If the Cubs get tired of the Thomas Diamond Affair, we may get a chance to see him in the majors soon.

Wait, what? (1952): Curious, Where are you getting this data to assign runs saved going back that far?

Colin Wyers: Retrosheet is every baseball researcher's best friend. I really can't say enough about the work their volunteers do. Now, Retrosheet doesn't have hit location or batted ball data going back that far, but I'm not using that data anyway.

Jersey Ed (Cranford, NJ): Hi Colin I know you aren't supposed to chase wins in fantasy baseball. But do you have any idea what percentage of a team's victories are won by the starting pitcher? Thanks

Colin Wyers: 70%, from 1993-2009.

Will (Mactaquac): I feel like we've turned a corner; no one's subjecting this year's break out HR stars to PED rumors (I'm not naming names here for fear of starting what I don't want). Time to exhale?

Colin Wyers: I don't know. I feel like instead of learning anything, we've simply tried to find a couple of scapegoats and move on. Home run levels still haven't dropped to pre-1994 levels. We still don't know to what extent steroids help hit home runs. And a lot of things that we do know how they effect home runs (parks, equipment, etc.), nobody talks about. It's really weird.

The Call (Inside the House): But what data are you using? If they don't have hit location or batted ball data, how can you assign something as specific as "runs prevented"?

Colin Wyers: It took me about 5,000 words to explain it in the articles I wrote - I'd link them here, but I (mea culpa) don't know if I can use links in the chat or not.

Jquinton82 (NY): Javier Vazquez has dead arm, I have 3 weeks left before the playoffs and 3 games out... How long does the dead arm thing last typically?

Colin Wyers: I have no idea. Sorry.

Milby (Bay Area): Colin, how much time do you spend actually watching baseball - live or on TV - verses digging into stats and numbers having to do with baseball? Some of my more analytical friends seem to get more enjoyment out of reciting obscure stats than sipping a beer at the game. I prefer to sip beer while reciting stats at the game.

Colin Wyers: It's hard for me to imagine anyone doing sabermetrics who doesn't really, really love baseball. I watch a bit less televised baseball this year than most others, just because of how bad the Cubs have been. I also get out to the local minor league park a few times a month.

Bob (Seattle): Will we ever read something like this again on BP? From the Top 40 prospects of 1999 - Jeremy Giambi (#8) "It’s hard to not find fault with Baseball America, who somehow deemed 63 other minor leaguers to be more valuable than Jeremy Giambi. That’s like calling Ted Williams the 64th-best player of all time. Yes, Giambi is slow and has no defensive value. But to suggest that one of the two or three best hitting prospects in the minor leagues is only the 64th-best overall prospect is to suggest that offense represents an absurdly small fraction of a position player’s overall contribution."

Colin Wyers: I don't think anyone's going to be writing much about Jeremy Giambi on BP. Honestly? It's hard when writing about things that haven't happened yet to say nothing that won't look strange in retrospect. There are probably some things on those 1999 lists that look really off, both from us and from BA. You try to learn from it.

Sky (The Roc, NY): If you had access to one additional piece of baseball data, what would you want to have?

Colin Wyers: Hang time. Hang time hang time hang time.

Dave ((Not the Bay Area)): Is Miibly just assuming that if you quote numbers over first-hand accounts, you don't have the first-hand accounts? I once was at a MiLB game at which a complete non-prospect was the star of the day. I didn't draft him in my keeper league, and I don't feel like a basement dwelling dweeb.

Colin Wyers: I think there's a real difference between being a baseball fan and being a baseball analyst. Now, it's really hard to be the latter without being the former. But I think it's really important to keep them separate to some extent. And to stay within my limitations - I'm not a scout or a coach, and I try not to confuse myself with one. So when I speak as an analyst, I really try to speak where the numbers have something to say, and be quiet about where they don't.

Will (Mactaquac): Was that ("Hang time. Hang time hang time hang time.") your last answer or your current wireless latency?

Colin Wyers: I am passionate about hang time - I think it's the most expressive way to talk about batted balls. Just tell me how long between leaving the bat and hitting the ground.

Foghorn Leghorn (Outhouse): Re: arbitrarily categorizing it. Baseball has a history. We have line drives and fly balls and popups. The mainstream has to be eased intot hat. It *wouldn't* be categorized for background analysis, but Tim MCCarver is NEVER going to say "Ichiro catches 45% of BIP with a VLA of greater than 13.75%" Similarly the question of categorization of pitches. They are categorized for the media: fastball, cutter, cut fastball, slider, slurve, curve, etc are EXISTING constructs that are used. Yes, the speed and spin and break are all on a continnuum, but no one is going to say "That pitch had 2450 rpms in the plane 5% off perpendicular with a vertical movement of X and a horizontal movement of Y." It's going to be a "curveball". What's the record for most Grand Slams allowed by a pitching staff in a season, and is that really the infamy Jerry Manuel is going for?

Colin Wyers: All of those categories are shorthand - they're an abstraction, standing in for reality. Abstractions can be helpful, but they can also keep us from thinking about the reality beneath. In the case of batted balls, ones on the border tend to not be very well served by arbitrary binning. And those are the ones that are the most interesting, I think.

garethbluejays2 (Newcastle, UK): Read the Posnanski article. The first few comments were all furious at the very thought that anybody could criticise Derek Jeter's glovework. Has there ever been any system that has ranked him positively?

Colin Wyers: No. And I know we're a long ways from having defensive analysis licked, but in Derek Jeter's case he's been playing for over a decade and so we have a lot of data. Ignoring everything else - he doesn't make that many plays, compared to other shortstops. So at this point you either have to believe that he's not very good defensively, or that he's magically repelling batted balls away from him. Either way he's costing his teams runs on defense compared to the average shortstop. That doesn't make him the worst defensive player ever - he's still a shortstop, after all, and being compared to some very tough competition. I think about the worst thing that can be said of him is that he's absolutely the worst defensive shortstop among first-ballot Hall of Famers.

Matt (IL): Why hasn't more of scouting become quantifiable? Why isn't PitchFX used on every high school and college prospect?

Colin Wyers: Money. It's expensive, and not terribly portable. Most of the minor leagues aren't even covered by Pitch F/X, is my understanding.

Jonathon (Flyport): Do you think stras is MVP and ROY or just ROY???

Colin Wyers: He's easily my favorite player to watch right now, but I don't think Strasburg is either.

Fly (Work): Do you see any value in advanced stats for the fans? For TV? Because to me, as someone who obviously recognizes the value of accurate performance projection for the teams, a super-stat would take a lot of fun out of the debates that are inherent in sports. SPLSI, OPLOI, I suppose.

Colin Wyers: I think that's a question everyone has to answer for themselves - I think there are a lot of ways to enjoy sports, and analysis can complement many of them. Some people don't feel that way, and that's fine. And besides, we're a long ways away from having One Stat To Rule Them All. I think the biggest lesson of sabermetrics is there's always more we can learn. So I don't see sabermetrics ending debates anytime soon.

MOJD (NC): Would you consider Jose Bautista's season to be science fiction or space opera?

Colin Wyers: You know what's really weird? Jays pitchers have the third-lowest home runs allowed of any team in the AL. I don't know if it's something with the hitting coach or just a really odd fluke, but they're living and dying by the home run with that offense, and Bautista is a big part of that.

Jack (Boston): Is there a FieldFX coming down the pipe to sit alongside HitFX and PitchFX? I think it would be really shortsighted if MLB didn't make that info available. One of the reasons I enjoy baseball stats more than football or basketball is that the "open source" community really is on the cutting edge, both because of history and the fact that it's much more quantifiable. If we come to the point where we need game charting to get any further, the pro teams with paid employees have the advantage and it just isn't as fun to follow the amateur work. How interesting would it be to read about a new defensive stat on BP if Theo Epstein had something light-years ahead under lock and key the way Daryl Morey does in the NBA with his legion of paid statheads.

Colin Wyers: There is a Field FX system under development. I have no idea what MLB Advanced Media intends to do with the data. A lot more will be coming out about this later this month at the annual Pitch F/X Summit in San Francisco.

FW Murnau (Deutschland): Vat do you know of vampires? You say that ze idea zat vampires cannot go out in ze sun was invented by me. Maybe zat is true, from vat is written down in ze books. But I actually cast a vampire in my movie! Someone else made a movie about this. I vas following ze truth, as all true artists do. Vat is your truth?

Colin Wyers: "Shadow of the Vampire" is really one of my favorite movies. John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe! Have to watch it.

Stu (Here): As fan, what do you is Starlin Castro's future? His ceiling? Is that higher or lower than you would project as an analyst?

Colin Wyers: It's been a lot of fun as a Cubs fan to watch Castro. To be honest, I've been really surprised with how well he's hit. His minor league numbers were impressive, but hardly this impressive. Long term, the question is how long he can stick at SS (the aging curve for defense isn't so much a curve as a slope) and how his power develops.

Alberto Callaspo (Los Angeles of Anaheim): What is the point of me? Do I have a real future as a major league 3B, or are the Angels wasting everyone's time?

Colin Wyers: He's at the age where you don't expect much development. Most likely, what he is right now is what he's going to be.

Colin Wyers: Okay, this is probably a good point to wrap up for the day. Thanks for your questions, everyone, and I hope to do this again soon.


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