Why it's problematic to point out that a player isn't as good as he once was.
Brandon Phillips is declining. Around 13 years ago, his lung capacity began decreasing, and in another couple decades it will be half what it was when he was 20. He's losing neurons in his brain—up to 10,000 per day. Around the age of 30, his major organs began to lose function, and his muscles began to lose mass. His maximum attainable heart rate is dropping by a beat per year, and his capacity to pump blood is shrinking, too. The first symptoms of mild-moderate cognitive impairment often start around this time, slowing his brain's processing speed and affecting memory and attention.
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.
When a batter has a dropoff in stolen-base rate, what's the likelihood he has a return to his normal rates?
Earlier this season, I had a discussion with one of my leaguemates and friends in the CardRunners Fantasy Baseball Experts League, Chris Hill (a poker player who partners with Hollywood director Nick Cassavetes for the league), after he read my article about how long it takes for hitting stats to stabilize. In that article, I proposed that a hitter’s stolen-base success rate (SB%) is extremely volatile, but Chris said that I might want to reexamine that line of thinking. He said that he hadn’t run a study on it, but he had always attributed a caught-stealing spike to “either an injury indicator or a precursor to significant decline of all skills [and] almost never random,” rattling off a series of such examples. I thought that this was interesting and at least worth a look, so I asked him to propose a way to study his theory, and I would run the study.
Based on his proposal, I’ll be examining all hitters who played in three consecutive seasons dating back to 1993 (a “baseline, a decline year, and a rebound year”) and had at least 15 stolen-base attempts in the first season. From here, I’ll use this set of batters to answer the four questions he proposed:
The best way to build a winning organization is to draft and develop talent then know which players to keep for the long haul.
While last week’s article contrasting the cost of re-signees vs. the cost of other people’s players, or “OPP,” made a strong point that there is a difference between these two groups of players, many readers had questions about various issues, including hometown discounts, the performance of the two groups of players before the deals, and whether the decline was a matter of a decrease in playing time or production. In this article, I break down each of these factors and use them to learn more about the cost of other people’s players.
A surprising revelation that players often do better in the second year of two-year contracts than the first.
Each year, about 25 players receive two-year contracts. The inevitable question that analysts ask is whether it was smart to commit to the player for a second year, or whether the team should have stuck with one year. But did you know that most players receiving two-year deals in recent years actually do better in the second year of their contract? Players who receive three- and four-year deals produce similarly in the first two years of their deals as well, instead of declining as many people believe.
Different hurlers have different capacities for pitcher-on-pitcher violence.
Cliff Lee has performed at an incredibly high level since joining the Phillies rotation last month, compiling a minuscule 0.68 ERA in 40 frames, effectively making Phans phorget that they were ever engaged in the Roy Halladay sweepstakes. Lee's junior circuit strikeout rates were generally of the good but not great variety, somewhere in the range of 6.1 and 6.8 per nine innings, yet his 39 whiffs while wearing red pinstripes has resulted in a fantastic rate. Switching to the National League tends to improve a pitcher's performance for a few reasons, but the most obvious of them involves the chance to face pitchers (Ed. Note: Phlailing?) as opposed to additional hitters with Papi Hafner Thome-level power. In his five Phillies starts, Lee has faced the opposing pitcher seven times, recording strikeouts on four different occasions. While the sample here is much too small to make any sort of definitive claim, the underlying idea that his strikeout total has been padded by opportunities to whiff the pitcher piqued my interest.
Where do you get a pitchfork in the five boroughs, anyway?
Eleven years ago, I banded together with four of my friends and bought a Yankees partial season-ticket package which gave us a pair of tickets to 15 games of our choice. We were instantly rewarded with the opportunity to frequent a once-in-a-generation ballclub, the 1998 Yankees. Expanding our plan to three seats the following year, we were fortunate enough to attend the World Series clincher, the kind of once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that the vast majority of baseball fans never get to experience first-hand.
With an introduction like that, we were hooked. Our ticket package eventually ballooned to 26 games, the cost per ticket tripled, and friends came and went, but we never had a problem assembling a posse willing to spend their hard-earned cash to fill those seats. We witnessed some amazing baseball, even as Yankee Stadium itself devolved into a less hospitable environment thanks to the increasingly heavy-handed security in the years following 9/11.
The move to send down a once promising regular is usually a permanent one.
"[Angel Berroa] is still going to be a heck of a player. [Andres] Blanco has got a long way to go even before he considers himself in Angel Berroa's category."
--Royals Manager Buddy Bell in September of 2006
OK, so it might not have been the most controversial thing he's said this month--even our intrepid Derek Zumsteg didn't dare sweat out this Dusty Baker gem. But the Cubbie manager also made the claim that older players fare better in the second half.
Dusty's claim has at least some grounding in his own experience--under his management, the veteran-laden Giants were markedly better in the second half in both 2002 and 2000, and marginally better in 2001. (Over the course of his entire tenure, the record is far more ambiguous: in Dusty's 10 seasons at the helm, the Giants played .535 ball before the first of July, and .546 after it). While the Cubs' second half didn't get off to a great start with the injuries to Corey Patterson and Mark Prior, it'd sure be nice to see them still in the race come September. The acquisitions of Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton have the Wrigley faithful in a frenzy; will Baker prove to be a sage or a charlatan?
Not to ruin the fun or anything, but this is a testable claim. By comparing the first and second half performances of players of various ages, we can see which ones really perform best down the stretch.
Not to ruin the fun or anything, but this is a testable claim. By comparing the first and second half performances of players of various ages, we can see which ones really perform best down the stretch. A few simple rules:
There are two related effects we are interested in studying. The original intent of PAP was to ascertain whether a pitcher is at risk of injury or permanent reduction in effectiveness due to repeated overwork. And in particular, does PAP (or any similar formula) provide more insight into that risk that simple pitch counts alone?