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I'd be particularly interested in the steals with Ellsbury. Will be 30 this year. Only attemped 5 steals in Sept/Oct. Given the outlier season for power in 2011 and the sometimes lingering effect of shoulder injuries on power, I think it's very tough to project the HR production. Whether or not he's going to justify a top 50 or so ranking in 5x5 will have a lot to do with whether he can be a 40+ steal guy again.
With regards to Coco and the A's line up, they finished 14th in runs scored and 7th in HRs in MLB last year and were 1st in both categories post ASB.
In the voice of Tim McCarver:
"His job today is to go out there and give his team chance to win, and if you talk to old time baseball people, they'll tell you that winning is a big part, maybe THE biggest, part of the game."
Excellent laughs. Thanks!
Another guy who has absorbed whatever basestealing lessons the A's are dishing out is Cespedes. He had some ridiculous jumps to second and also to third this year. He stole second and third standing up on back to back pitches this year and it was thrilling.
My thoughts exactly. As an A's fan I can tell you I'm thrilled seeing Rickey around the team and still part of the organization. A's have been pretty successful basestealers the last few years in general. Have to think Rickey gets some credit.
Valuation of players is all about context. It's not just across different formats. It's within a single league across teams. If a player is playing a punt saves strategy, he'll place no value on a closer and increased value on pitchers with low ERA/WHIP who have a low k/9 rate (because he'll presumably be using more starters and make up for Ks in volume of innings pitched).
One often over looked nuance of value is that players should be valued very differently before the draft and after. Let me give you an example:
Outfielder A will outperform SS B, but SS B is drafted ahead of OF A.
After the season starts, the owner of SS B approaches owner of OF A with a trade of B for A. The additional pieces of the trade are OF C and SS D.
OF C and SS D are statistically identical.
Where it may have been wise to draft SS B first, it would now be foolish of the owner of OF A to make that trade during the season. Unless of course the value in SS B is derived from a category in which OF A is deficient (SB for instance) where the owner of OF A feels he can gain overall ground in the standings.
Context is everything. Which is why I think one size fit all rankings and player valuations have very little meaning and may mislead the thinking of the average player who will attempt to accumulate as much "value" on a team as possible without understanding the more important requirement, which is properly structuring a roster to allow a player to compete.
A's season ticket holder here. I can't see Ross breaking out. He just doesn't pass the eyeball test for me. His stuff isn't that impressive. His delivery is really funky to the point where I'm not sure it's repeatable or sustainable without injury. I would love it if you were right though.
My A's breakout candidate is Cliff Pennington.
My great uncle, the richest person I've ever known personally used to say, "there's no money to be made by taking advice, but there's a fortune to be made selling it."
Your piece is really more about touts as much as it is about players. Without the touts, there's no such thing as a sleeper. There are no real unifying characteristics that bind the players in your clouds. I see untested rookies, post-hype, guys who displayed some SABR characteristics that somebody noticed, veterans coming off bad years, guys coming back from injuries, heck there are even guys who are coming off career years that are getting hyped as sleepers by touts who are assuming that everybody is building too much regression into their forecast. I bet you won't be able to find any stronger correlation to success or failure with the "sleeper" group as you would with any randomly selected group.
I don't think touts are necessarily steering people wrong by digging for sleepers that aren't really there. Yeah they have to move content, but their rationalizations for the sleepers are usually plausible. What actually steers folks wrong is believing that touts (or anybody else) has true foresight into how players are going to perform in the upcoming season. If they really knew, they'd take that knowledge to high stakes fantasy leagues and clean up.
What I'm starting to see more and more on the internet are pieces that kind of look at fantasy through a strategic lens and use some new economic concepts to teach you how to succeed in playing the game. These kinds of pieces are much more valuable than the old, here are the players I think are going to break out kind of pieces.
I really like the use of word clouds in this piece by the way. Are you familiar with Edward Tufte? He invented the sparkline. He's a guru for the graphical or visual representation of information. I think it's a very interesting topic and I like seeing people getting creative like you did. The word cloud really conveys the information you're trying to get across very nicely.
I only say that they are subjective (and this is particualarly true for projecting playing time) because the choice of which inputs varies from projection system to projection system. The subjectivity is in the design of the algo.
Player performance risk. There are too many inputs. Despite all the efforts to anticipate injury risk, including Will Carroll here, I have yet to be convinced that anybody can provide meaningful numbers.
You can measure risk against player projections for fantasy purposes because you have draft pick or dollars spent as a benchmark. But you are measuring subjective (yes they are subjective as much as we might think that they aren't, even PECOTA) projections so you're still just taking guesses about one half of the equation.
The concept of risk is a place that's rampant for our biases. It's where we allow perception and narrative to intrude on our evaluation. Most people create a mini-narrative for each player that includes: stats, perceived talent, perceived risk, playing time evaluation. Out of this narrative arises the perception of player. While the qualitative components of that narrative might be important, because they are qualitative they are a place where we need to be most on the lookout for congnitive illusions influencing perception. Overconfidence in our ability to assess risk is a perfect example of that.
I'd be a lot more interested in seeing a study of "breakouts" versus service time rather than age. Are you aware of any studies that look at the breakout percentage of players in their first, second, third and fourth complete years? Experience at the MLB level seems like it might be more predictive than physiological age.
A's season ticket holder here. I may be the only one that feels this way in the world, but I hope the A's stay right where they are and I don't care if they stink forever. I get tickets to major league games right behind home plate for $29 bucks a ticket. It takes me 15 minutes door to gate from my house to the stadium. I park for free. Having grown up watching the Padres at Jack Murphy, the Oh Dot Co even makes me a little nostalgic. And it's a low fi event, just like baseball should be. No overblown gimmicky stadium stuff to distract from the field. Just baseball.
Like both the Reds and the Mets picks. Also noticed the fine home work done by Dickey last year. I think the Angels might get to Drabek in his first road start.
Loving this daily feature. I've been doing the samething for amusement only for years. Don't like the Orioles over Verlander pick today. Verlander is this year's AL Cy. Had a difficult opening day draw @ NYY. Stepping down in class as they say at the races.
I am not saying that saberists dislike narrative. Nor am I saying that narrative appreciation, aesthetic appreciation, dramatic appreciation, statistical appreciation are in anyway incompatible. Quite the opposite; these can all easily co-exist.
I am saying that setting up Bruce Jenkins or Joe Morgan as strawmen makes about as much sense as those on the anti-saberist side saying stuff like: "Pecota? That thing that said Jake Fox would hit 25 home runs in 2010? What a joke!"
The point I was trying to make in my somewhat garbled mess above, is that Bruce Jenkins aside, there is a lot of information about the game that resides in the old chestnuts about how to play the game right. Not everything is a red herring. Even those who full embrace sabr, the Theo's of the world, also emphasize the qualatative approach as well. Scouting, non-qualitative player evaluation, roster construction.
So the job of the statistician is to be rigorous in finding the red herrings and thorough and accurate when debunking those things. But it is also to know the limitations of what can be described with relevance mathematically. That was why I referenced Taleb. Data crunchers have to be constantly vigilent against the belief that numbers can describe everything.
Finally, my larger point was that baseball is a great place to explore the collision between the qualatative and the quantatative and to bring other disciplines into the mix as well. Neuroscience, biomechanics, economic theory, game theory, psychology and group behavior and so on and so on. Because the rules are seldom changing and the objectives are clear, it makes a great control for watching our own behavior and applying those lessons to the wider world.
Balance in all things, fellow BP readers. Can't we all just get along here? There's a powerful movement that cuts across economics, neuroscience, law, philosophy, sociology etc. ad nauseum where what is called "folk wisdom" is under assualt. The baseball equivalent of "folk wisdom" is playing the game right. In many cases, some sacred and cherished illusions are called into question as the narrative are deconstructed and attacked with massive amounts of data and it's been well noted above that it's not unusual for people to become uncomfortable when certainty is called into question.
But we tend to forget that this discomfort with uncertainty cuts both ways. Remember that the folk wisdoms often have a quantatative component that's hidden by how the data was compiled (namely through observation, through years and years of experience). What those narratives remind us is that some of these old chestnuts contain truths that are not so easily dislodged as it might seem at first glance. A very fine economist, Nassim Taleb has done some good work at explaining how reliance on data, especially the misunderstanding of data by people once or twice removed from the origin, created the recent economic crash.
My point is that I think it's great to try to lead the old traditional horsed to the well of sabr when possible but it's also important for the sabr side to remember that traditional still, in many ways, provides the template upon which statistical analysis is built, even where it is just the premise to be overturned. What's more, that template becomes more interesting when we expand the topics.
A great example is the notion of clutch performance. A traditionalist will swear it's there, a sabr guy will say the numbers say not so much. Perhaps the answer is not in statistics but in neuroscience. Jonah Lehrer has some interesting things to say on what's goin on in the brain when you choke or don't choke.
A philosopher by the name of Jacques Barzun wrote, "Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball." One reason I think this has a kind of truth to it is because baseball has a continuity, a fixity of rule and of stats, that makes it a great laboratory onto which we can project all kinds of stuff and mix it up. One of the things going on in America right now is this great collision of narrative and new ideas and so many of the ideas in that collision are present in baseball. What better way to learn and enjoy that to take the broadest and most inclusive perspective as we look for new truth?
Tools like the PFM are not that useful in my opinion because the values lack context. I don't think that you should necessarily discount Davis' value just because the majority of his value comes from 1 stat, but you certainly aren't going to pay $20 for him if you already have Juan Pierre. You might if you're power heavy though. It's all context. Once a player's value has been reduced to a single number, you lose information about how that number was derived. Player valuation is really all about resource allocation and how much you'll pay or where you'll draft and those things are constantly in flux during your draft as players come off the board and your and other rosters are constructed. Even though the PFM seems designed to take some of those things into account, it's really too complicated a process and all the inputs the algorithm would need to make sense are not going to be there. You have to be aware about all kinds of stuff about stat scarcity, positional scarcity, and roster construction (yours and theirs).
It all depends on the context of your team of course. My teams seem to solidify into either mostly balanced players or a mix of specialists depending on how the draft/auction is playing out. All things being equal, I have Abreu as a much more valuable fantasy player who is chronically underrated. He's a value in the 16th round, Davis is probably still a reach there. There are a lot of other speed options very late if you're looking to catch up in steals. Also, having seen Rajai here in Oakland quite a bit the last few years, I agree that there are reasons to be concerned. He looks pretty overmatched against plus fastballs and doesn't have good plate disipline. There's not much margin for error there and a dip in his luck he could really struggle to get on base enough to add value. Also, Toronto is about to find out that he's not nearly as good a centerfielder as he might be advertised to be. If Podsednik gets healthy, there's some playing time risk with Rajai. Abreu for me, no contest.
Probably wouldn't make for interesting reading to see everybody just pick Pujols as the offensive MVP, but for my money he's so far and away the choice it's not even close. Would love to see somebody defend another choice. 1st base is actually thinner than most fantasy players recognize. Look at the average value and the standard deviation in value from top to bottom at ss and 1b. Pujols and Hanley are actually about equal in terms of their value above the positional mean. Given that, you take Pujols everytime.
Also disagree with the choice of Kemp as a disappointment. He's too talented and with Lopes around he's going to run a lot. I'm actually betting on him to be a top 10 player this year.
I'll give you a guy not on your list that will end up the year returning 2 star value: Josh Outman. Great park and defense, over 7.0 K/9, 2 to 1 K to BB at the MLB level, better in the minors. Walks still a little high. Coming off Tommy John getting very good early reviews out of A's camp. Looked big league ready in '09.
First of all, if the title is a reference to the Ray Charles classic Genius + Soul = Jazz, then nice work, sir!
The fact that it may be more difficult to excel without an everyday position actually makes the Zobrists of the world that much more valuable. The age of the expanded pitching staffs means that rostering a player who can give you above replacement at multiple positions is a big advantage.
Also, while James' research is good at finding these little factoids, it doesn't generally speak to causality. In this case, being designate as an everyday player is the traditional validation of a player's worth. If anybody could find a way to get a player to really understand the value in doing what Zobrist does, it would be Madden. It's possible that intelligent management contirbutes to the chances for success for a player in this kind of roll.
To be fair to Beltre, in the first 4 years of his deal with Seattle he produced 19, 25, 26, and 25 home runs. From 06-08 he slugged about .460 on average with OPS at right about .800 and he played at least 140 games 05-08. He did it in the AL West and in a ball park pretty comparable to the Coliseum. No doubt the A's would take those numbers with high quality infield defense. While there's risk and the value may not be there, Beltre almost certainly make them better in the near term. Given how tough it's been for the A's to attract FA talent, it's almost to the point where if they can get somebody to take their money and it's at least in the realm of being a reasonable contract, they should jump on it.
All that being said, I am convinced that this is not a negotiating tactic and that Beltre has no interest in the A's. Hope I'm wrong.
Don't get me wrong, I would like for them to get Beltre, even with a slight overpay and even for 5 years knowing he's got that history of overperforming in contract years then fallig off. He's just a very good fit in that they get a solid right handed bat without sacrificing defense and as an ancillary benefit they lose the Kouz as an everyday rally killer.
What I am saying is that I really believe that Beltre had no intention of signing with the A's and the A's knew it but made the offer anyway in order to accomplish something totally unrelated to actually acquiring Beltre's services. Otherwise, why would he not even bother to have his agent at least call and negotiate or decline? Especially considering that it looks, at least on the surface, like a very reasonable offer.
Beltre is never coming. He shunned them last year and he never even responded to the offer they put out this year. I think the A's probably knew Beltre would never take their offer and probably also knew that they had no shot at signing Iwakuma. Seems to be some sort of odd game they're playing to create the illusion of spending money without actually spending any. Or potentially to call attention to the fact that they can't compete for FA's because of "the facility" as Billy Beane has said recently in order to lever their way into San Jose. I really do think it is now and has always been ownership's primary objective to get to San Jose. Whatever negotiations they have with Oakland and Fremont are just of show.
Thanks for the A's talk! I have to say I find it interesting and perhaps a little telling that you could do a whole piece about Oakland without mentioning Chris Carter. I know he has a history of struggling with promotion at every level and he was as bad as could be in his first A's cup of coffee. He looked a little better in round 2. He would seem to be the only guy in the whole organization with any potential to be a difference maker. Hard to see where the at bats are going to come from now. Doubtful they'll be willing to displace Barton or to live with Carter's defense in left, which will now be filled by Willingham anyway. Have the A's given up on Carter. There seems to be no point in further AAA seasoning. Maybe they carry him for spot DH against lefties and some spot starts at 1B/LF.
Wasn't there talk of a BP sponsored/centered fantasy game?
I think the comment about the "classic Asian deception" is pretty interesting. I think the A's have a pretty wide spectrum of ways in which they try to game the system. One of the things I think is important to them is to try and have pitchers that have different types of stuff that compliment each other. They always have a side armer in the pen. They like to mix some power pitchers with some soft tossers. I think they feel like over the course of a three or four game series you get a lot of different looks and this move gives them a whole new flavor to add into the mix.
This is a very good situation for a pitcher to come into. Great defense, pitchers park, well established rotation where he won't be expected to be a #1.
Kuroda looks like the closest comp, and I've read that comparison before. Iwakuma's Japanese H/BB/K per nine almost identical to Kuroda's MLB numbers. I would expect Iwakuma to perform about like Kuroda with slightly better results thanks to the defense.
Carter is the whole key to the A's. If he's the 0 for the call up guy we saw at first then they are going to be in trouble because it will take them the first quarter to half of the season to figure it out. If he builds on a better finish to the season and gives them something approaching his AAA numbers, they'll be in pretty good shape. In fact there are some other factors that suggest (assuming good Carter) the A's could compete for the division even as is. Specifically, I think Suzuki's season was derailed by his injury. Even when playing, he never seemed quite right. If he gets back closer to where he was offensively in '09, that's a good start. I think Cliff Pennington has the chance to be a pretty decent offensive player. He had some first full season ups and downs, but he showed that he's not overmatched at this level. Also, the A's didn't get anything close to a full season out of Coco. Granted nobody has gotten a full season out of Coco with regularity. Of course that's a lot of ifs, but what's an off season for?
I'm not really sure what they should do with Rajai. He went through some very bad stretches. He's also not as good defensively as you'd want him to be, especially in center where he seems to take a lot of bad routes and get poor jumps.
It's easy to say the A's should go after a big bat, but the fact of the matter is they probably aren't going to spend the money and players like Adam Dunn just won't want to play in Oakland anyway (see: Beltre last year). They'll probably give Jackson a shot (did just enough), maybe bring in a cheap Melky Cabrera type and put him on a short leash like they did with Jake Fox and if it doesn't work out, cut bait pretty fast.
Excellent piece. Thanks very much. Do you, or any other readers of this comment, have a link to research on the efficacy of the shift in general? There is some information implicit in your analysis, but I'd love to see something that specifically discusses whether the shift "works".
Thanks for the work, Ken. You’ve consistently shown a knack for doing this type of piece without being annoyingly flip or too shallow, which is tough to do.
With regards to #1, I would almost take it a step further. You’re right that the average fan is getting a little smarter and this has an interesting effect. The same sorts of concepts and analytic tools being used in baseball are applicable in lots of other areas (dare I say important areas) of our lives. Data crunching, game theory, current economic concepts…because baseball is such a familiar, digestible model for a lot of people, it’s a good place to get an introduction into some of this stuff. Just like learning math as a kid by doing batting averages in your head, you can start with baseball and go from there.
#6 : My take on instant replay is that I honestly don’t care whether or not the umpires get it right. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? And I mean it. I don’t care if it costs my team the World Series or if it costs a guy a perfect game. I just don’t care. I’m not celebrating the human element here. I’m not saying that my enjoyment is enhanced by mistakes or that it becomes part of the lore of the game blah blah blah. I’m just saying, mistakes happen and getting things right on the baseball diamond is not so important in the grand scheme of life that I can’t live with goof ups. So, for me there’s no upside to replay. I like the game the way it is, which is not to say I’m a grumpy old man opposed to all changes. But I can live with it so I’d rather not see the rhythm of the game altered, even a little bit. Probably not the usual take on this one.
#17: I love MLB on satellite radio. Listening to the hometown broadcasts is like taking a little mini tour of the country every night. Such a great alternative to being parked in front of the tv. Radio allows you to do other stuff, move through space.
Thanks for remembering Craig Lefferts. A bit of nostalgia for this Padres fan.
Very nice piece. I would say that while narrative may distort our empirical understanding of the game, it can also be the essence of the game for a fan. I've often likened a baseball season to a new novel by a favorite writer. In addition to newspaper accounts you also really have to have radio to experience the fiction properly, and while you may not get a clear picture, the experience of the fiction you engage with is a big part of the enjoyment.
On a different note, I think the tendency to view baseball through the narrative lens is a big part of what makes adoption and understanding of statistical analysis difficult for fans and probably baseball execs as well. A good example is the stolen base. Joe Sheehan I think did a piece in BP years ago suggesting you need to steal successfully 70% of the time. But let's say you steal a base and then score on a broken bat single, the narrative is clear and the cause and effect are obvious. This is the story of the manufactured run. But say the guy gets caught stealing. Opportunity cost is a statistical, economic concept that doesn't lend itself to narrative. It's really the story that didn't happen.
Be curious to know how Matt Guerrier would compare. The Twins bullpen in general seems solid. Guerrier has led the league in appearances for the last two years. Impressive that he's held up pretty well despite pitching in 70+ games three years running.
I guess I'm kind of with you. There's this undercurrent of "just make it easy and tell me how to win my fantasy league." When you dumb it down, you always lose something in translation. If you don't understand, invest some time to learn something and take it as a challenge. Things shouldn't always be easy.
But there are arguments on both sides. BP and the folks that run it want to make as much money as they can...not in any mercenary sense, but hey it's a business. And taking the message to the masses has a certain populist appeal.
Enjoyed this post. I would add that not only do advanced statistics tell a different story, they are often used to overturn folk wisdoms about the way the world works. Baseball is an excellent laboratory for this kind of analysis because of the relatively clear objectives of the game and the vast amounts of widely available data. Just as many of us probably learned to do division by calculating batting averages and ERA in our heads, the new baseball math provides the potential to understand theories and new ways of looking at the world and data that are becoming increasingly relevant to our economic and politcal lives, so I think the notion expressed in Will's post about being evangelical is interesting.
At the same time, I think there will always be the insiders talking among themselves about the really tough stuff. To a certain extent that's what BP has been about and maybe something is lost if BP drifts too far from being an insiders salon to becoming a place for dilettantes and worse. Likely what would happen is what always happens: the hard core people will up and move to another corner of the web where they can continue to talk among themselves.
There's a lot of precident for this bringing the word to the masses out there at the moment. You mention Michael Lewis. Malcom Gladwell does this well. The Freakanomics guys. The art of turning numbers and science into digestible stories. Obviously you have an interest in expanding BPs readership that is at least equal to and probably supercedes your desire to evangalize new baseball math and you're probably on to one way that you could do that.
I would advise you to go cautiously and beware the unintended consequences. In trying to attract new readers you bring new traffic, subtly change the culture, probably need to change the look and feel of you site. You simutaneously put at risk your relationship with your core readers ("yeah I remember BP...their early stuff was cool but they totally sold out man")and place yourself into competition with the ESPNs and the Yahoos of the world who fight hard to keep the casual fan looking. Wouldn't want to see BP get caught trying to have it's cake and eat it too. Could end up neither one thing nor the other.
Good luck. Love the site just the way it is.
Ken, I'm rooting for you. Here's a little free advice that is almost certainly worth right around the price. You are definitely the most readable of the bunch. You walk the line of a little to precious from time to time but that's a quibble. Most of the jokes work. Tone is pretty much on pitch. I don't think you're going to be able to crunch numbers with some of the other writers and the charm is potentially going to carry you only so far. What I'd like to see is something that demonstrates you're a hard core baseball guy if not necessarily a hard core numbers guy. Some really sharp observations about on the field stuff. Dabble in scouting. Maybe go the route of going out of your columnist style to some reporting. Get in touch with some people in the game.
Unsolicited .02 cents.