The supposedly neutral record of baseball statistics has been anything but.
Race and the color line have played a central role in baseball history. One of the most well-known stories of the game’s past is Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the color line in 1947. Every year, Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson Day, leading observers to recall that prior to 1947, baseball was segregated. That sin touched every aspect of the game. Namely, the history of baseball statistics is enmeshed in the history of race in baseball.
Baseball statistics receive an enormous amount of attention. Likewise, the history of baseball gets its fair share of treatment in the form of popular histories, academic works, and SABR biographies. The history of baseball statistics, however, garners far less consideration. Indeed, it’s seldom acknowledged that statistics even have a history outside of themselves. Not only that, but when the history of baseball statistics is afforded scrutiny, the results suggest the markings of a still emerging site of study. The story tends to travel from Alexander Cartwright in the 19th century to Bill James near the turn of the millennium. While those figures are important, there is more to the history of baseball statistics than a series of individual actors.
The objects of study in this article are two of the most significant publications regarding baseball statistics: the Official Encyclopedia of Baseball (BE), first published in 1951, and the 1969 Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia (MEB). Specifically, it examines them with regard to the nature of encyclopedias and in the specific context in which they emerged. They were products of a moment in baseball history when the color line was a fresh memory and full integration was just getting underway. Because of that, the manner in which they addressed black baseball was specific and revealing.
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The fight over the Nationals' TV broadcast rights has moved from arbitration to the courts, for now. It won't end soon.
The Washington Nationals had a turbulent 2015: vastly underperforming expectations by missing the playoffs, enduring clubhouse strife, firing their manager, losing several key contributors to free agency, and getting spurned by high-profile free agents. But the Nationals suffered another important defeat this offseason, one that might have a more lasting impact.
As you may know, the Nationals and Baltimore Orioles have been engaged in a long-standing dispute over television rights fees through Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), the exclusive local broadcast network of both teams. The Orioles own a 90 percent interest in MASN, whose broadcast rights were conferred as part of the relocation of the Montreal Expos to Washington. The agreement set the value of the Nationals’ television rights for 2006-2011 and provided that the Orioles, Nationals and MASN must negotiate in good faith to determine the amount of the Nationals’ rights fee after the 2011 season for the next five seasons. Not surprisingly, in 2012 the parties could not reach an agreement and the dispute went to arbitration in front of MLB’s three-member Revenue Sharing Definitions Committee (RSDC).
Though the hearing took place in April 2012, the RSDC Panel did not render a decision until June 30, 2014, in an apparent attempt to encourage the parties to settle. In the interim the Nationals were forced to play multiple seasons while receiving local television revenue well below fair market value as determined by the panel (not to mention the value the Nationals might receive on the open market with its own network). When the RSDC Panel finally disclosed its award, it set the rights fee for the 2012 season at approximately $53 million with built-in annual increases, a figure in between the parties’ submissions.
The Orioles, unsatisfied with the result of the arbitration, filed a lawsuit in New York state court requesting the court stay enforcement of the arbitration and overturn the panel’s decision. After initially granting the stay of enforcement, a New York state court vacated the arbitration on November 4, 2015, finding that the arbitration was not sufficiently neutral. Specifically, the court determined that the Nationals’ retention of the Proskauer Rose law firm as counsel constituted “evident partiality” because the firm had often served as counsel to MLB and several franchises. In fact, Proskauer acted as counsel in other matters for the Pirates, Rays and Mets, whose owners made up the three members of the RSDC Panel. But as is generally the case in hotly contested legal disputes, this decision is far from the end of the matter.
There are a number of interesting aspects of this decision, the first being that the court was willing to vacate the arbitration. A federal or state court overturning an arbitration award is quite rare (some studies peg the rate at which arbitrations are upheld at around 90 percent). The Supreme Court has consistently demonstrated a strong preference for arbitration, so much so that generally arbitrations can only be nullified by the courts for fraud or severe structural and procedural unfairness. A decision that is “wrong” or “incorrect” is almost always upheld in court provided that the process was fair.
But the court made a series of other findings likely to be relevant in further proceedings: 1) that there was no fraud or conspiracy by MLB in favor of the Nationals, 2) that the RSDC applied a reasonable methodology that was sufficiently supported in determining the size of the award, 3) that there was no misconduct by MLB in providing support to the arbitration, including the involvement of now Commissioner Rob Manfred; and 4) that a $25 million loan from MLB to the Nationals to advance the difference in televisions rights fees did not defeat the panel’s impartiality.
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We have a Play Index! Get ready for Venezuelan Winter League fun facts.
Hello there! I'm writing this guest post from Caracas for all of you guys who never seem to have enough of the baseball world.
You do know where Caracas is, right? You just have to Google "most dangerous city in the world," and you will find "cute little pictures" of my "cute little hometown." But besides that, Caracas—and Venezuela as a whole—are known for many things less negative than violence: Beautiful people, ridiculously cheap gas prices aaaaandddd baseball.
First of all, let me just clarify that Winter Leagues, such as the Venezuelan, are a little a bit more important than foreign fans might think. Granted, they used to be a lot bigger. The Venezuelan League, for example, saw Greg Maddux, Bob Gibson and Rollie Fingers all pitch, and enjoyed the shows that Pete Rose and Rod Carew displayed in their early years. Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout aren't traveling south for the winter these days. But they are still kind of big...
Weeeell, at least over here they are. Because even if the foreign players don't have the "MLB star" status—they come mostly from Double-A, Triple-A and independent leagues—the local players have much better résumés than their counterparts in the 1980s did. After all, there have never been more Venezuelan players in major-league baseball than there are today, and a good chunk of that group tends to play regularly here.
I say all of this because I'm about to show you a couple of toys that we—and when I say "we" I mean journalists who look for numbers in this desert—use to get stats for and from our league, and I don't want you thinking this has no use in your part of the baseball world. That being said, let’s begin.
In winter leagues, I'm afraid to tell you, we don't have PITCHf/x or Trackman. We don't have heatmaps, and we don't have spray charts. Shoot, we consider having splits a freaking luxury! It's a hellhole for sabermetrician wannabes. There are, however, at least three ways you can get basic leaderboards of basic stats (AVG, OBP, SLG /ERA, BB, K).
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After two years at the top, Byron Buxton has been dethroned as the no. 1 prospect in baseball.
Previous Rankings: 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007
Chat with Minor League editor Craig Goldstein About the Top 101 (11:00 AM ET) | Read the list with full commentary in Baseball Prospectus 2016.
While it's entirely likely you'll skip right ahead to the rankings, we wanted to provide some context for the list. As always, prospect lists are a snapshot in time—in this case mid-to-late December, when the list was compiled. It's possible a prospect's situation has changed since then, or that our evaluator's feelings on a prospect have changed, due to new information. Additionally, it's possible that a prospect ranks higher within his team list than he does here, and that's because the team Top 10s are spearheaded by individual authors who are informed by the BP Prospect Team and outside sources. The product below reflects a more rounded team effort, and thus there could be some inconsistencies between the Top 10s and the 101. These are not mistakes, but rather reflections of the different weight of opinions that drove the respective lists. Thank you, and enjoy —Craig Goldstein
1. Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
Scouting Report: Coming soon
2015 Ranking: 7
2. Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins
Scouting Report: Coming soon
2015 Ranking: 1
3. Lucas Giolito, RHP, Washington Nationals
Scouting Report: LINK
2015 Ranking: 6
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One of the creators of openWAR responds to the points raised by Michael Wenz this month.
Michael Wenz recently wrote a review of the openWAR system for Baseball Prospectus' "Caught Looking" column (read that article first). I really enjoyed his review of openWAR, which, imho, is the most thorough review of the openWAR system to date. He constructively points out some strengths as well as several areas of weakness pertaining to openWAR. Here I would like to respond to some of his comments. (Article excerpts are in bold; my comments in regular font).
This review will cover openWAR: An open source system for evaluating overall player performance in major league baseball, by Benjamin Baumer, Shane Jensen and Gregory Matthews in the June 2015 Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports.
Most baseball statistics are easy to define—a run scored is a run scored. Sometimes a bit of judgment goes into the definition—sacrifice flies appear in the denominator for on-base percentage but not batting average, for instance—but the definition is at least widely agreed on. Wins Above Replacement (WAR), however, is a statistic that involves much judgment and little agreement. Baseball Prospectus publishes a measure called WARP, and FanGraphs (fWAR) and Baseball-Reference (bWAR) have measures of their own. In a recent paper, Benjamin Baumer, Shane Jensen and Gregory Matthews have declared openWAR on the others.
I think the fact that there are many implementations of WAR is an important point to make when talking about Wins Above Replacement. As advanced baseball statistics have permeated the mainstream, it seems that many baseball writers refer simply to WAR as if there is an unambiguous computation for this quantity. The major versions of WAR, for the most part, agree on a rough ordering of players. However, the ingredients to these WAR implementations are often unknown (for proprietary reasons) and even changing as more research is done. The concept of WAR is more or less agreed upon; how to actually compute it in the "best" way is still a very open question.
Their paper, openWAR: An open source system for evaluating overall player performance in major league baseball, proposes a new manifestation of WAR that is different from the other measures in some important ways. They also emphasize reproducibility, and along with their paper, the authors make available an R software program that allows users to recreate their work. Reproducibility and transparency have become increasingly important topics in academic research in recent years, and meeting very exacting standards for reproducibility is one of the authors’ stated goals. This stands in contrast to existing methods that rely on proprietary methods and opaque calculations. Whether their method outperforms the other measures is, of course, an open question and a difficult one to answer.
I believe one of the major strengths of openWAR is that all of the ingredients are known. (You can download all the code here). If one is interested, they can follow every single calculation in the process of computing openWAR. There is no other implementation of WAR that can make this claim about all the pieces of their formula. I am NOT, however, claiming that this makes the openWAR methodology superior to other implementations (though, as an author, I am biased in favor of openWAR). Rather, I am simply reiterating what I believe to be an important distinction.
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Today, we take our catching-defense offerings to some pretty exciting places.
It’s Catcher Day at Baseball Prospectus, as we celebrate the expansion—both in method and in scope—of our new catching statistics. Given the age and breadth of some of these stats, we truly feel as if we are debuting our large adult child.
The statistics both apply to and measure players other than catchers, but they are all perhaps most important to catchers as we measure their total value to a team. The statistics are four-fold, covering three critical catching skills:
1. Running Game
a. Swipe Rate Above Average (SRAA) – the effect of the player on base-stealing success;
b. Takeoff Rate Above Average (TRAA) – the effect of the player on base-stealing attempts;
2. Blocking Pitches
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January 11, 2016 6:00 am
Not all who play shortstop are shortstops, and other rules of scouting players before their roles are defined.
On a recent trip to Florida, I was able to momentarily escape the loving clutches of family to take in two sporting events—day three of the Perfect Game National Underclass Showcase and a local high school basketball game. Even while watching the basketball game as a casual observer, I found myself slipping into scouting mode, pondering whether any of the players on the court might have promising futures at the college level.
In particular, I noticed a player whose tools were best suited for a “3-and-D” role, but was instead forced to operate as an initiator because there was no better option to occupy the role on his team. As a result of suboptimal deployment, the player’s in-game performance suffered, as almost all of his turnovers came on ball-handling gaffes. Nonetheless, it became apparent that the player possesses desirable tools—defense, perimeter shooting, and shot blocking—that will allow him to be a valuable contributor on a smaller Division I team, assuming he’s deployed in his optimal role as a “3-and-D” guy and not forced into ball-handling and initiating duties.
When observing this player, I couldn’t help but think of some advice I received from a veteran talent evaluator. “Don’t get caught up too much with where you see guys playing,” he said. “You could be watching a Rookie-level game and the organization’s right fielder of the future is playing shortstop, the catcher is playing third, and a late-inning reliever is playing center field. Trust in the tools they show you. That’ll tell you more about future roles than where you see them playing right now.” A player’s current role gives you clues about his future role but sometimes it’s a distractor. Cutting through the noise in the interest of pinning down a player’s optimal future role is difficult, but doing so is an immensely valuable part of scouting. In what follows we’ll explore role optimization and some of the common positional transitions executed in the interest of maximizing expected value at the major-league level.
December 16, 2015 6:00 am
When Johnny Cueto makes his first start for the Giants, it will end a very unusual streak in San Francisco.
Over the past 19 seasons, there have been 6,700 regular-season major-league games started (GS) logged by pitchers born in the Dominican Republic. The Giants are responsible for one of them.
On April 2, 2008, the Giants were slated to play the Dodgers in Los Angeles in the third game of each club’s regular season. The sky was partly clear at first-pitch time, but the Doppler radar just west of Dodger Stadium was as green as the oncoming clouds were dark, and managers Bruce Bochy and Joe Torre were in a bind. Starting the probables, Tim Lincecum and Chad Billingsley, meant begging for a mid-game dilemma—pitching a dynamic young starter on both sides of a delay or wearing out the bullpen in an early-April contest—which would leave each skipper open to media scrutiny just days into the season. After some deliberation, Torre gave the ball to one of his relievers, Hong-Chih Kuo, and Bochy followed suit by scratching Lincecum for Merkin Valdez.
Rain delays are a rarity in Chavez Ravine—almost as rare as Dominican-born starters donning the Giants’ orange and black. There have been only two of them since that April evening: on May 23, 2008, and April 7, 2015. One of those brought the tarp out pre-game, the other in the ninth. Neither required a manager to weigh the risk of losing his starter in the early frames.
Valdez, whose career in the majors spanned parts of five rocky seasons, is the answer to several trivia questions. He is one of eight players to appear in three different Futures Games. He was once traded (with Damian Moss) for Russ Ortiz. And he went by Manny Mateo at the time of said trade. But all of those pale in comparison to this one:
In a 19-year span, Valdez was the Giants’ only Dominican-born starter. And he was afforded that opportunity by accident.
Since Juan Marichal—the first-ever Dominican-born Hall of Famer, a Giants legend immortalized with a statue outside AT&T Park’s right-field gate—left San Francisco for Boston after the 1973 season, precious few of his fellow countrymen have pitched in the Giants’ rotation:
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Exploring information admissability in scouting.
As a reader of this site, you’re inevitably well aware that statistics, biographies, analysis, scouting reports, rankings, and video—whether for pro players or amateurs—are but a mouseclick away. There’s a whole lot of baseball information out there, and while it’s plentiful and easily accessible, increased volume necessarily comes with more noise to filter through. The Baseball Operations sub-department most affected by the information boom of the past decade is of course Analytics, but the degree to which increased information availability has affected Scouting goes overlooked. As we’ll explore in this piece, scouts are tasked with filtering and, in many cases, flatly excluding large batches of available information in the interest of maintaining the originality and validity of their evaluations.
Scouting is a necessarily subjective exercise, but one is nonetheless obligated to transpose those subjective inputs onto the decidedly more objective palate that is the 2-8 scale. Consequently, a formalized methodology for regulating the information sources that are deemed admissible, versus those deemed inadmissible, is necessary to ensure that all scouts within a department are arriving at their grades via the same collection of inputs, and that extraneous information sources don’t corrupt the evaluation process.
Player tools, makeup, and physical traits are the primary sanctioned inputs, while unsanctioned inputs are typically those that reflect the opinions of others; those that convey only circumstantial evidence about the player; and those that might lead to anchoring on quantitative or pseudo-quantitative information. It’s no surprise that these tenets of scouting are so revered. After all, they appeared in the Old Testament and were recited famously by Samuel L. Jackson in Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 masterpiece, Pulp Fiction.
“The path of the righteous talent evaluator is beset on all sides by the inequities of the industry consensus and the tyranny of misleading statistics. Blessed is he, who in the name of sound talent evaluation methods and the maintenance of originality, bases his grades solely on the tools, physical projection, and makeup he perceives with his eyes and ears, for he is truly a man of conviction and the finder of unrecognized value. And he will eschew, with great discipline and discerning character, those inputs that would threaten to corrupt and diminish the validity of his reports. And they will know his process is sound when he enters his reports and pref lists into the organization’s scouting database!”
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November 25, 2015 6:00 am
Our objective at BP Stats is to provide sophisticated and useful metrics. Our mission is to do this while working transparently. Part of this involves reviewing what we have. As much—if not more—is about building new things.
Today we arrive at an update to FRAA—Fielding Runs Above Average—that represents both lanes of the process. FRAA is the metric we use at BP to measure the defensive contributions made by players in the field. In reviewing what we had, we found something we really needed to fix—outfield assists were not being counted in FRAA. We’re also adding some new metrics for catcher throwing skills (SRAA and TRAA) along with the framing and blocking metrics (CSAA and EPAA) we already were adding. This will allow FRAA to reflect player defense across a variety of important spectrums.
All of these improvements are happening even while we work on the next generation of FRAA using some of the techniques that have produced things like DRA and CSAA. This new version of FRAA will be the next “old” version if our offseason projects go well.
Zoom Out: WARP
A quick review of how we make our Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) metric. Here’s how we generate WARP, in two parts.
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November 18, 2015 6:00 am
David Ortiz announces this will be his final season. His accomplishments are plentiful.
On January 22, 2003, the Red Sox signed David Ortiz to a one-year, $1.25 million contract. At the time, the deal hardly triggered any attention at all, even among the most obsessed baseball fans in Boston. Our Transaction Analysis on the move dedicated half a sentence to noticing it.
The Red Sox were Ortiz’s third different organization, and having turned 27 that offseason he was well past the point of being considered a noteworthy prospect. Ortiz had shown some intriguing power up to that point in his career and even slugged .500 over 125 games for the Twins in 2002. Still, he hadn’t made enough of an impression to stick around, and Minnesota released him that offseason after six years with the team. Few could imagine him serving as more than a bench bat in Boston.
That he became so much more is the reason why, over 13 years later, the news that Ortiz will retire after the 2016 campaign sparked dismay among Red Sox fans and immediate debate regarding what his ultimately legacy will be. But any arguments over whether a designated hitter belongs in the Hall of Fame should take a back seat for the time being, for Ortiz’s career, regardless of whether he ends up in Cooperstown, is one worth marveling at.
For the first half of that 2003 season, Ortiz was battling for playing time with Jeremy Giambi and Kevin Millar. After Giambi suffered a shoulder injury, a regular spot opened up for Ortiz, and he’s been Boston’s starting DH ever since. Ortiz batted .288/.369/.592 with 31 home runs in 128 games that year, the type of sterling numbers he’s produced nearly every summer for over a decade.
Back in 2003, the Red Sox didn’t just sign a hitter who improved their lineup; they signed one of the more prolific sluggers of his generation. In an era of immense success in Boston, the club’s good fortune in signing Ortiz is as responsible for the franchise’s three World Series titles as the front office Theo Epstein put in place or the deep pockets of John Henry.
Of course, what is so remarkable about Ortiz is how long he’s excelled against big league pitching. Over the past 13 years, Ortiz has averaged 34 home runs per season with a .288/.385/.566 line during that time span. The fact he has sustained such tremendous numbers while approaching his 40th birthday only adds to how impressive his career has been. In 2015, Ortiz became just the third hitter since 1901, after Barry Bonds and Steve Finley, to belt more than 35 home runs in his age-39 season, according to Baseball Reference’s Play Index tool. He also became just the third hitter during that span to slug over .550 in his age-39 season after Bonds and Ted Williams.
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November 16, 2015 6:00 am
It's all but impossible to fit amateur hit tools to the 20-80 scale, which means teams have to get clever.
The 20-80 (or 2-8) scale functions as a universally agreed-upon language for communicating information about tools and projected performance at the major-league level. As a scout, knowing your club’s iteration of the scale inside and out is arguably just as important as the talent evaluation component of the job.
Scouting is, of course, an inescapably subjective exercise, but one that aspires to formalized methods. For the most part that’s possible, especially in evaluating major-league or high-minors talent. But sometimes the scale as is just can’t handle the demands of the evaluative process. Sometimes the scale must bend. Consider the amateur hit tool.
The scale is calibrated such that 5 is major-league average, with each grade up or down representing a standard deviation from the mean. Consequently, it’s very difficult to produce present hit tool grades for amateur and low-level minor leaguers that actually convey meaningful insight about the current state of the player’s hit tool. If dropped into the major-league talent environment in his draft year, the best high school hitter in the country would be a present 2. I’m a 2; you (the reader) are a 2, unless of course you’re a highly-skilled professional hitter; the best high school hitters in the country are 2s; and all but a handful of the best drafted college hitters are 2s. The preceding statements are all accurate if you’re basing the grade on projected performance over the next three months at the major-league level, but assigning 2s en masse to amateurs doesn’t convey anything meaningful about the current state of the player’s bat and how far he has to go to reach his assigned future grade. Teams approach this issue in a number of different ways and there isn’t really a right or wrong answer. The goal is to maintain consistency and transparency, such that anyone in the organization will understand what you mean if you put a 4/5 on a guy.
The Peer Grade
Kiley McDaniel, former BP rival and noted Raggaeton enthusiast, laid out one of the approaches used by teams to grade an amateur’s present hit tool in an early look at the 2015 draft class, then added a bit more in Part 5 of his 83-part treatise on the hit tool.
“The present hit grades for (Brendan) Rodgers and for all amateur players going forward is a peer grade (which I’ll discuss in more detail in a few days in another article about the hit tool), rather than just putting blanket 20s on everyone’s present hit tool. A peer grade means how the player performs currently in games relative to his peers: players the same age and general draft status or skill level. Some teams started using this system to avoid over-projecting a raw hitter; some use the rule that you can’t project over 10 points above the peer grade for the future grade. This helps you avoid saying players that can’t really hit now will become standout big league hitters. Obviously, some will, but it’s not very common and it’s probably smart to not bet millions on the rare one that will.”
The appeal of this approach is that it gives scouts more freedom to use the entirety of the scale, which of course allows for greater differentiation between players, many of whom start blending together, especially in the middle rounds and beyond. The downside is that defining the “peer group” is difficult and somewhat problematic. If you’re evaluating a top-five-round high school center fielder from Florida, are you comparing his hit tool to all top-five-round center fielders? All draft-worthy players? All high school players? Where does the subsetting end? Additionally, using this approach necessarily means splitting the scale in two—one iteration designed specifically for amateur talent and one designed specifically for pro talent. This is fine if the distinction is agreed upon and understood by all within the organization, but it necessarily means that the hit tool a player is given as an amateur cannot be compared directly to the grade he’ll receive once he signs and starts playing in front of pro scouts.
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