Analysis is dead? Not in every sector of the baseball industry.
This piece was originally intended as a response to Gary Huckabay's column of last week, the idea being to contradict his assertion that baseball analysis is dead by counting down 10 points of decision that at least a significant minority of baseball franchises get wrong. But after reading through my article-I generally write my introductions last-as well as re-reading Gary's piece, I am not so sure it is orthogonal to it at all. I agree with Gary that there is relatively little to be gained from what he describes as "the rigorous review of player performance data." Relatively little does not mean "nothing," however, and I have isolated some of the exceptions below. Most of the items on my list, however, have to do with questions that run outside the scope of the GM or the field manager. They have more to do with the guy sitting in the owner's box, and those places on a baseball team's org chart where the names stop becoming familiar.
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BP's founder makes his comeback bearing an unsettling message.
Itís been an unfortunate part of writing for BP that Iíve written a number of words about the passing of friends. Today, Iíve got another obituary to write, but this one is not in the least bit painful.
Dan goes channel serf on us, and reaches an unsurprising conclusion.
"It is a characteristic of statisticians that they see the game by the thousands. It's a way of looking at the biggest possible picture of the game. Backing away from it a great distance and trying to see patterns that aren't apparent close up."
Picking up where he left off yesterday, Rany continues his dissection of the 2006 Detroit Tigers.
A month after nabbing their franchise shortstop, the Tigers signed a franchise catcher, Ivan Rodriguez. On the surface, this made all kinds of sense; it's not often you get the opportunity to sign a surefire Hall of Famer who just turned 32. On the other hand, catchers age quickly, and Rodriguez caught more games (1564) before his 32nd birthday than anyone other than Johnny Bench, who was finished as a catcher by the time he turned 33 and was finished as a ballplayer when he was 35. While Rodriguez's 4-year, $40 million deal was eminently reasonable, it still represented a gamble in that it was likely the Tigers would never be competitive enough during the life of the contract to make the addition of Rodriguez meaningful.
John Rocker's (sort of) back, Mariano Rivera gets booed, Bill James talks shop, and Pedro Martinez doesn't want his ring.
"I took all of this in and I asked myself: Does he deserve another chance? I'm a Catholic. I went to Villanova. I was watching all those people lining up this week to see the Pope and I wondered, 'What would the Pope do?' He would give him another chance." --Long Island Ducks owner Frank Boulton, on signing John Rocker this week (New York Newsday)
"Stathead." "Stat-drunk computer nerd." "Rotisserie geek."
You can earn a lot of derision when you look at things in a new way, and the people who have applied statistical tools to evaluate baseball players and teams have heard the above epithets and more. The work of people such as Bill James, Craig Wright and Clay Davenport has often been dismissed as the mind-numbing analysis of people who need to put their slide rules away and get out and watch a game once in a while. Their efforts, which have been dubbed "statistical analysis," have expanded and improved the body of objective baseball knowledge, and their work is even beginning to penetrate the insular world of baseball front offices.
But the term "statistical analysis," as applied to baseball, isn't descriptive enough. Actuaries analyze statistics, and while the work pays well, it is pretty dry stuff. Life-expectancy tables and risk/benefit workups aren't going to get your average Red Sox fan excited, nor should they: baseball fans care about their teams, and the players on them, not a series of numbers.
But baseball statistics are not numbers generated for their own sake. Statistics are a record of performance of players and teams. Period. Benjamin Disraeli's oft-quoted line--"There are three types of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics"--just doesn't apply.
"Who of us would not be glad to lift the veil behind which the future lies hidden, to cast a glance at the next advances of our science and at the secrets of its development during future years? What particular goals will there be toward which the leading sabermetric spirits of coming generations will strive? What new methods and new facts in the wide and rich field of sabermetric thought will the new years disclose?" Here at Baseball Prospectus, we're not completely immune to the general fascination with the recent turn of the world's odometer. So, with this edition marking the final year of the second millennium, let's take a look forward at what the third holds for us seamheads. Our inspiration comes from a similar effort nearly 100 years ago. In 1900, a mathematician named David Hilbert addressed the International Congress of Mathematicians in Paris and delivered what was to become history's most influential speech about mathematics. Hilbert outlined 23 major problems to be studied in the coming century. In doing so he expressed optimism about the field, sharing his feeling that unsolved problems were a sign of vitality, encouraging more people to do more research. The above quote is, in fact, a bastardization of the opening statements of Hilbert's speech. Hilbert referred to mathematics instead of sabermetrics and spoke in terms of "centuries" instead of "years." Given the relative youth of sabermetrics and baseball analysis compared to math, it's appropriate to use a period of smaller scope than Hilbert. The quotes that appear periodically throughout this essay are similarly taken from Hilbert's speech and altered to refer to baseball analysis.
Last year, I was given the privilege of writing a story that hadn't been written. It's a story about a hidden treasure and one that opened my eyes to yet another hidden game in baseball. While "original" UTK subscribers will remember this story, I think it's important enough to bring to a BP audience. I'm also going to be speaking with American Specialty in the near future, bringing you more insight from the true masters of injury analysis. I hope you enjoy. --Will
Outside of baseball, the Redbook is unknown. Even inside baseball, many front office personnel I spoke to were unaware of its existence. Even I had no knowledge of the Redbook until a recent conversation with a former baseball athletic trainer. He mentioned the book in passing and I had to bring him back to it. 'There's a book with all the info?' I asked. After telling me about it, I went on a quest to find the book. A bit of searching later, I found that the publisher was in fact MLB's insurance consultant, a company called American Specialty Companies Inc.
The most rewarding thing about getting into sabermetrics is having more tools on the workbench. To me, it's what Prospectus is all about: furthering our understanding of baseball, the same as SABR, or Retrosheet, or in a weird way, the bartender who insists on telling me stories of how Bob Gibson would pitch to the score. I'm probably the least stat-heady member of the authors, prone to taking shortcuts to rough some stats out and see if there's something interesting there instead of making sure I've included sacrifice bunts in my runner advancement data. But I love the investigation.
There's been a rumor that Freddy Garcia, who last year appeared to be an ascending ace, has been tipping his pitches, and that's why opposing teams have been teeing off on him. I regard stories like this with a lot of skepticism: most pitching coaches watch a lot of video and wouldn't be oblivious to this sort of thing, so the possibility a pitcher's struggling and, say, Bryan Price didn't think of it is slim. What happens in a local media cycle is this:
Since the chat session, I've received dozens of e-mails asking for additional details. The response from BP readers finally
prodded me into finishing some related projects I'd had in progress for a while, which I'll present later in this article.