Answering a few readers questions, and addressing the relative merits of a few metrics.
Yes, I know, another mailbag article. All I can say in my defense is that as long as folks send me thought-provoking e-mails, I'm going to get distracted and run a little off-course. So it's all your fault, really.
In search of reader-friendly clarity on minor matters.
At the end of Saturday's installment of Toolbox, I promised to move ahead to the pitchers this week. Once again, good feedback and a general desire to make sure the class is all on board with what we're talking about before moving on to the next thing keeps us from going forward. That's mainly my fault—the last few Toolboxes have been light on the Further Reading and bullet point sections, which might have helped clarify issues before they got out of hand.
All things being equalized... the new report on the Baseball Prospectus Statistics page.
The bookmark on my browser that brings me to Baseball Prospectus every day is set to the Statistics page. Even if I'm not looking something up—say if I want to go to one of the chats or see what's new on Unfiltered—that's where I start off. Often, I don't really look at the Stats page—either because it's a way station to wherever else I'm headed, or because I'm so familiar with it that I take it for granted. A few days ago, I was en route to the Glossary when something stopped me cold.
Installment the Third in an examination of deviations and their ramifications.
This quote represents the only resonant moment in the apocryphal third Godfather movie-a film ruined by, in no particular order, nepotism, over-acting, a filmmaker in financial difficulty, and a script that went through approximately 8,000 drafts and was compromised by cast defections. Regardless of the above flaws, whenever I think I've wrapped something up nicely, and then find that I can't move on, it's Al Pacino's voice I hear in my head, in full Scent of a Woman scenery-chewing mode, lamenting his inability to move on to a post-Cosa Nostra life. Two installments of the Scales Project ago, I announced that we'd conclude last week, but the previous edition seems to have raised more questions than it answered. Since I'm a question-answering kind of guy, we'll stick with relievers for another week-I trust you'll let me know if this looks as if it's becoming a quagmire.
The rest of this article is restricted to Baseball Prospectus Subscribers.
Not a subscriber?
Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get access to the best baseball content on the web.
With the aid of feedback and some mathematical daring, sorting out what words like good, bad, and average mean.
In the past few editions of Toolbox, we've been discussing pitching statistics, and trying to answer one of the big questions that I receive frequently in emails: with all of these fancy statistics we've got here at Baseball Prospectus, how do you know what's good, bad, or in between? The answer so far has been to go stat-by-stat, comparing and averaging out performances over the last three years using a methodology borrowed from Kevin Goldstein and William Burke. You can check out the first two articles in the series here and here.
Reader response to defining the good, the bad, the and ugly bad, and turning that same firehose on relief pitching.
After a short delay, we're back with the next phase of the "Scales Project," this time bringing the methodology we borrowed from William Burke and Kevin Goldstein to bear on relief pitchers. Recapping from last time, the method I used for the starters was to take the top 150 pitchers each year (basically, the equivalent of five starters per team), ranked by the number of innings they threw as starters, and then within that sample I ranked the players according to various statistics (ERA and SNLVAR). Those pitchers were then averaged out with like-ranked players from the years 2005-2007. So the top pitcher profile, per SNLVAR-a composite of Roger Clemens's 2005, Johan Santana's 2006, and Jake Peavy's 2007-posted an average SNLVAR of 9.0, had an average record of 17 wins and 6.7 losses, an average VORP of 79.9, and so forth. We then used these rankings to divide the sample into thirds-Good, Average, and Bad, as ranked by that statistic-and further took the top half and bottom half, respectively, of the Good and Bad groups to have a profile of Elite and Superbad performance in each statistic. For the starters, this method outlined a scale for each statistic, which looked like this:
Not all the kids can be above average, so how do we define it?
When it comes to baseball's numbers, I'm often more interested in how they function as language than anything else. As Joe Sheehanrecently pointed out, the 500- and 600-home run milestones don't, for analytical purposes, have that much value over the numbers 499 and 599, or 501 and 601, for that matter. They're round numbers that end in double zeroes, and that's why we paid more attention to Manny Ramirez's at-bats this weekend than we did his at-bats the weekend before, and more attention than we'll pay to his at-bats during the weekend to come.
The quest to best determine offensive efficiency continues.
I was ready to move on, but last week's column generated a lot of comment, so we're sticking with baserunners left on base for today's column. Now, last week we looked at the correlation between leaving runners on base-the Team LOB statistic-and run scoring, by looking at team totals of those stats going back to 1971. I kept the conversation limited to raw totals of runners left on base, times on base, and runs scored for two reasons: first, because that was the question that had been asked, and second, because raw totals are the way the left on base stat is most often used and discussed. Once the strike-shortened seasons of 1981, 1994, and 1995 were omitted (although I failed to take the first strike year, 1972, out of the sample) the teams were on more or less equal footing in terms of opportunities to put men on base, score runs, or strand them.
We often hear about how offenses fail when they leave too many men on base. But is this really failure?
I feel the need to re-introduce myself, or at least my column, since this space has been pretty quiet in 2008-I've spent a lot of time so far running around explaining legal concepts and covering live events for Baseball Prospectus-and I'm hoping this will be the beginning of a more regular schedule. Prospectus Toolbox is a column dedicated to new readers, or veteran readers who might not be familiar with all the acronyms and numbers that we tend throw around rather casually on this website. The focus is meant to be high on simple language and explanations and low on any form of math you'd have learned after middle school-because, really, you shouldn't need to be Stephen Hawking to comprehend the work that we do here, or to have it increase your enjoyment of baseball.
One of the staples of this website is the yearly Prospectus Today column in which Joe Sheehan discusses the expert fantasy leagues he participates in-the Rotowire Staff League and Tout Wars. Today, I find myself in the odd position of hijacking one of those discussions, mainly because of peculiar luck and a wonky wireless Internet connection. Last Friday, I was BP's on-site representative at the AL Tout Wars draft-yes, the one made famous by Sam Walker's bestseller, Fantasyland, as the ne plus ultra of fantasy leagues.
CHEERS clearly proves that Tim Raines doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame. Will it incite an anti-stathead backlash for Rock amongst the voters?
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.