Against his will, a numbers-averse author begins to see the sabermetric light.
Believe it or not, most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.
Tim Baffoe is a teacher, pizza delivery driver extraordinaire, columnist for 670TheScore.com in Chicago, a Ginger, and not nearly as cool as he pretends to be. He’s @Ten_Foot_Midget on Twitter if you’re nasty, where he is followed by the likes of BP’s Kevin Goldstein and Chuck D (who isn’t BP’s). You’re welcome to tell him he sucks or ask him a question for his weekly mailbag about sports or life at email@example.com.
Ratings for the MLB All-Star Game were up this year, but does that really tell the whole story?
Television ratings are a funny thing. The spin that can come out of the numbers can drive reports in wildly divergent directions. In sports, ratings can be spun to say that the popularity of a given league or club is high or low, depending on those feeding the information. Of course, leagues and clubs love to tout growth, while detractors can spin numbers negatively. For Major League Baseball, ratings have been used to show that the game’s popularity is on the rise, while others have pounded keys to say that it’s a “dying sport.”
So, which one is it? As is often the case in data analysis, the truth can lie in the middle. Before we get started, let’s give a quick primer on what the ratings numbers mean.
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The new JAWS runs up against players from the Steroid Era to determine their Hall worthiness.
As with comedy, timing is everything in baseball. "Hitting is timing," Hall of Famer Warren Spahn said famously, finishing the thought with the complementary observation, "Pitching is upsetting timing." A good chunk of both the game's traditional and advanced statistics, the ones that we spurn and those that we celebrate, owe plenty to being the right man in the right place at the right time—wins, saves, and RBI from the former camp, leverage, run expectancy, and win expectancy from the latter. ERA owes everything to the sequence of events. For better or worse, MVP votes are won and lost on the timing of a player's productivity, or at least the perception of it that comes with being labeled "clutch." Timing is a major part of how we measure the game, so it should matter when we look over the course of a player's career in evaluating his fitness for the Hall of Fame.
A look at the first basemen on this year's Hall of Fame ballot.
Having kicked off this year's JAWS series with the starting pitchers, today we turn our attention to the first basemen, a slate which includes the ballot's best newcomer as well as its most controversial first-timer, and a few holdovers who aren't going anywhere for entirely different reasons.
The man tasked with succeeding Bobby Cox as the Braves' skipper discusses managing techniques, statistics, and infield shifts.
Fredi Gonzalez is no stat geek—at least not yet—but he clearly recognizes the importance of data. The 46-year-old Cuba native was weaned in the trenches of the minor leagues, but over time he has evolved into a numbers-savvy manager willing to employ a shift or tweak a batting order for reasons other than, “My gut told me to do it.”
A look at the hitters whose True Average fell sharply from one season to the next and how they fared the following season.
Lance Berkman had a down year. I know that isn’t exactly earth-shattering news, but he did not perform up to the level we have come to expect given his career numbers. At 34 years old, he is unlikely to continue to hit like he did in the early part of his career, but his 2010 numbers paled in comparison to those produced a year ago, when he hit .274/.399/.509 with a .314 TAv. In 2010, Berkman put up a .288 TAv while hitting .248/.368/.413. Though his season was plagued by injuries, he managed a mere 14 home runs, and that slash line looks strange when attached to his name. The numbers were not terrible, but rather different, considering that he has never posted a BA below .274, an OBP below .386, an SLG below .509, or a TAv below .300.
Is Chipper Jones a greater switch-hitter than Eddie Murray and Pete Rose?
A little over a week ago I wrote an article on switch-hitters, focusing on a simple question: Do we evaluate switch-hitters based on their self-platoon split, or based on overall numbers regardless of the split? A case can be made for each side, as those in the self-platoon camp would argue that a good switch-hitter should be able to produce from both sides of the plate. These advocates certainly wouldn’t consider someone like Gary Matthews Jr. a solid switch-hitter, as his numbers are terrible even if his split is small. On the other side of the spectrum, it also makes sense that the best switch-hitter would be the best hitter who happens to bat from both sides of the plate. Mark Teixeira might favor one side more than the other, but his numbers from each side are far and away superior to the league average. The differentiation would be whether switch-hitting is considered a niche in which a separate definition applies. Can a good switch-hitter be a relatively underwhelming overall hitter?
Various people throughout baseball talk about the importance of the Tigers' long-running double play duo.
“Tram” and “Sweet Lou." The longest-running double-play combination in baseball history, Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker played 1,918 games together from 1977-95, the most ever for American League teammates. During that time they combined for 11 All-Star berths, seven Gold Gloves, seven Silver Slugger awards, 4,734 hits, and 429 home runs. They were, quite simply, the heart and soul of the Detroit Tigers for nearly two full decades.
There are major differences between statistics, and it is important not to misuse them.
In this day and age, baseball players are defined by their statistical attributes much more than they were a few decades ago. That isn’t to say that stats rule all by any means, but rather that teams are starting to be built with more of an eye toward numbers than in the past or at least with an eye toward numbers that provide more information. We have witnessed the defensive revolution. This past offseason, not only did the Red Sox make a conscious effort to bring aboard the darlings of fielding metrics—Mike Cameron, Marco Scutaro, and Adrian Beltre—but teams shied away from the likes of Jermaine Dye, who averaged 33 home runs and a .279/.347/.528 line over the last four seasons, because his overall contributions were not in line with his asking price. And last offseason, the glut of hard-hitting but poor-fielding corner outfielders suffered financially; it’s hard to imagine players with skill sets similar to those of Adam Dunn and Bobby Abreu being offered so little even just a few years ago.
Exhibition statistics have little bearing on roster decisions.
Few times of the year are as anticipated as the start of spring training. Fans have been without Major League Baseball for five months, and while exhibition games matter little in the grand scheme of a season, they offer the reminder that meaningful action is right around the corner. Unfortunately, spring training games also serve as the impetus for a litany of articles that use murky data to make points, or focus on how generally meaningless the numbers are before throwing out a "having said that…" reversal. We might read that spring numbers don’t mean much, especially for pitchers, but that Fausto Carmona’s K/BB ratio in 12 innings is legit. Or how power numbers are suspect in the spring, but Abraham Nunez’s (the other one) nine blasts and .981 slugging percentage was a clear portent of solid production around the corner for the 2004 Marlins.
The first member of the three great shortstops of the '90s calls it quits, but where does he stand historically?
Back in the mid-1990s, a trio of young shortstops burst onto the American League scene. Soon dubbed the "Holy Trinity," Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra were part of an elite three-way positional rivalry not seen since the days that Willie, Mickey, and the Duke ruled the center-field scene in New York. The trio were heirs of a sort to Cal Ripken, Jr., who a generation earlier had opened up the shortstop position to bigger, more athletic and more offensively adept types, a development which played no small part in moving the game towards a higher-scoring era. Arguments raged over which of the three was superior, though they often came down to a choice between Rodriguez's video-game offensive totals and Jeter's championship rings, with Garciaparra's own merits somewhat lost in the fray. But no matter which dog one had in the hunt, for a few years it certainly seemed as though all three were racing towards Cooperstown.
The Mets' bench coach talks about the duties of his job and the interesting path he took to the major leagues.
When the Mets hired Dave Jauss to be their bench coach, they brought on board a true baseball man. The 53-year-old Jauss has spent his entire adult life in the game, performing a cornucopia of roles for a multitude of organizations. After getting his feet wet in independent ball and the college ranks, the Amherst College grad spent three years as a minor-league manager in the Expos system before moving on to the Red Sox, for whom he served as a first base coach, minor-league field coordinator, bench coach, director of player development, and major-league advance scout. From Boston he went to Los Angeles, where he was Grady Little's bench coach with the Dodgers in 2006 and 2007. For each of the past two seasons, he performed the same role under Dave Trembley, in Baltimore. Jauss, who was hired by the Mets in November, talked about his time in the game during the final month of the 2009 campaign.