Lots of mail pursuant to the Game Scores 2.0 piece…
Yesterday Kerry Wood shutout the Mets who fielded a lineup that was major league only because the players were allowed to wear Mets uniforms. Shouldn’t the game scores somehow represent the lineup a pitcher faces. A Pedro or Mulder shutout of the Yanks full-strength lineup simply can’t have the same game score as Wood’s “masterpiece” yesterday. BTW, the PCL champion Sacramento Rivercats (Crosby, Koonce, Grabowski, German, Edwards, et. al.) fielded a better lineup than the Mets yesterday. Check the Cats’ MEQs.
Ideally, H.W., there would such a variable, but that would just about 86 any ease-of-calculation appeal game scores might have. But the idea is certainly correct: not all outings, be they gems or disaster starts, are created equal. (For instance, take a gander at the cast of forgettables Eric Milton mowed down in his 1999 no-hitter.) It’s not quite germane to game scores, but Keith Woolner’s Pitcher’s Quality of Batters Faced reports are highly instructive in this regard.
Among serious contenders this season, Boston’s Theo Epstein is the only freshman GM. And since the Red Sox have roughly a 97.6% chance of winning the Wild Card, perhaps it’s time to divvy up the plaudits. Boston’s erstwhile GM, Dan Duquette, put together the bulk of this team. While that’s fairly ipso facto for an exec only 18 months or so removed from the job, it’s worth asking to what degree Duquette’s fingerprints are on this year’s model. One obvious way to do that is to take a cumulative, all-encompassing metric and see what percentage the Epstein-era acquisitions are contributing. Let’s first take a look at the offense using Value Over Replacement Player (VORP). Players traded for or signed by Epstein are indicated by an asterisk (*) following their names:
In the 1988 Baseball Abstract, Bill James introduces what he admits to being a “garbage stat”–the game score. For the uninitiated, the game score is a number, generally ranging from zero to 100, that’s used to evaluate a starting pitcher’s performance in any given outing. It’s scaled so that 50 is roughly an average start, 90 or higher is gem status and anything below, say, 15 is in Jaime Navarro territory. Like the man said, it’s a junk metric, but it’s an entertaining one. That doesn’t mean, however, that it can’t be improved upon. Game scores, as mentioned, were conceived 15 years ago, and in the intervening period we’ve learned a great deal about how much control pitchers exert over certain events. In light of this, perhaps it’s time to roll out Game Scores 2.0, with an eye toward what we now know about the art of pitching. As many of you know, semi-recent research has found that pitchers don’t have as much control over what becomes of balls in play as previously believed. Voros McCracken’s initial findings suggested that pitchers had almost no control over the fate of a ball once it left the bat (provided it stayed in the park). Subsequent research by Keith Woolner and Tom Tippett found that while pitchers didn’t have a great deal of influence over whether balls in play were converted into outs or fell as base hits, they did have a modicum of control over these events. Whoever’s right (I side with the latter position), pitchers appear to have much less influence with regard to hit prevention than we once thought. This principle–separating what pitchers control absolutely from what they control only partially–is where the rubber hits the road for GS 2.0.
Last week I laid out my All-Surprise Team. Since I much prefer going negative, I thought this week I’d rear my ugly head upon the All-Disappointment Team. Once again, it’s with the help of Nate Silver’s PECOTA projection system. First a bit of housekeeping: A couple of readers pointed out that Baltimore’s Melvin Mora deserved a spot on the All-Surprise Team. I’m inclined to agree. I left him off mostly because I was on a crack bender for much of the week, but I’m fine now and fully possessed of my faculties. The All-Disappointment Team, forthwith…
This is something I like to call the All-Surprise Team. By surprise, I mean the pleasant variety as opposed to, say, an IRS audit or a trans-Atlantic plane ride seated next to Bronson Pinchot. Now to classify something as a “surprise,” you’re wallowing in the subjective. It’s a bit like calling someone “underrated” or “Democratic presidential candidate”–loosely defined and perhaps without any value at all.
In order to apply a standard more firm than my own capricious notion of the word surprise, I’ve turned to Nate Silver’s PECOTA projection system. In isolation it’s enough to give a liberal-arts buffoon like me that monkey-opening-coconut feeling, but fortunately it’s laid out right here in all its easily digestible glory. Know that it rawks, and that I’m leaning heavily on it for this little ditty.
In any event, with a shout-out to PECOTA, here’s my 2003 All-Surprise Team…
Normally, I try to avoid being baited by a hapless demagogue like Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star, but this waste of trees/bandwidth was too much to abide.
You see, Griffin, in a column delightfully free of facts, is wringing hands over how “sabermetricians” are forcing traditional scouts to the margins of the industry or, in some instances, taking their jobs altogether. And Griffin’s bang-spoon-on-highchair tone suggests statheads are also stealing the wives of scouts and rounding up “good baseball men” everywhere in internment camps.
Unfortunately, this sentiment is somewhat common these days. Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi cut back on his scouting staff after taking over for Gord Ash, and Oakland GM Billy Beane–at least according to Moneyball author Michael Lewis and his license to dramatize–likes junk food, working out, screaming at Grady Fuson and ignoring his scouting staff. Then comes Theo Epstein in Boston and his subsequent hiring of Bill James. Ever since, Griffin and his ilk have been vociferously defending scouts and G.B.M. (Good Baseball Men) everywhere from a cabal of imaginary enemies. That is to say, the animus that Griffin is so damned sure stathead types have for scouts and other purveyors of traditional methods isn’t really there. And it doesn’t need to be.
Among contenders this season, it was the Dodgers who most resembled Sisqo. That is, they were fleeting, not possessed of the skills necessary to persist, and ultimately inconsequential. And no hit single to make the ladies squeal and shake it either. Not so long ago, Joe Sheehan did a crackin’ good job of deconstructing the Dodgers’ flaccid offense, so I won’t belabor the point. But I will add that the Dodgers’ run-scoring problems aren’t a recent phenomenon. In fact, for much of their history, they’ve been less offensive than a Billy Graham knock-knock joke. The Dodgers haven’t finished in the top five in the NL in runs scored since 1991, and they’ve led the senior circuit in runs scored exactly twice since moving to Los Angeles prior to the 1958 season. Additionally, they’ve been one of the worst organizations in baseball in terms of identifying and developing hitters. The lineage of highly productive, homegrown Dodger hitters runs from Mike Piazza (himself a nepotistic afterthought when tapped in the 62nd round of the 1988 amateur draft) to…Pedro Guerrero? If I’m in a charitable mood I’ll throw in the merely decent Raul Mondesi and the so-far-so-good Paul Lo Duca, but you get the idea. So why is that?
You’ll recall that for the last two weeks we’ve looked at the divergent paths, in terms of power, of two distinct groups of minor-league hitters. The first, deftly named Group A, comprised the top 25 active leaders in slugging percentage who had at least 3,000 major league ABs as of the end of the 2002 season. Group B consisted of hitters who, despite putting up strong minor league power numbers, failed to bust out the lumber at the highest level. To populate Group B, I included anyone with a career minor league SLG of at least 0.490, at least a 10% decline in their SLG in the majors and at least 1,750 ABs in the majors.
I chose those in Group B specifically for their high minor league SLGs, so it’s neither surprising nor interesting that they would outslug those in Group A. What might inspire a spit-take is the fact that they also bested Group A in every peripheral power indicator. So what gives?
Maybe it’s command of the strike zone that forecasts power better than actual power indicators. Sounds counterintuitive, but, hell, I’m running out of ideas. So to test this theory, we’ll look at the following measures:
A little something to take your mind off the forthcoming cinematic pantheon-dweller… In last week’s Can, I took a gander at the minor league power indicators of some of today’s most potent hitters in an effort to find the most accurate power indicators at the minor league level. The study pool (Group A) comprised the 25 active leaders in slugging percentage who had logged at least 3,000 ABs in the majors. The group included such heavies as Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Vladimir Guerrero. This time around, we’ll look at Group B–those that, despite strong minor-league SLGs, have been at least vaguely disappointing in the bigs. To populate Group B, I included anyone with a career minor league SLG of at least .490, at least a 10 percent decline in their SLG in the majors (you’ll recall that almost all of today’s elite power hitters posted higher SLGs at the major league level) and at least 1,750 ABs in the majors.
There’s quite a bit of variance among organizations with regard to how much they value and instill patience in hitters, how much they prioritize a high on-base percentage, how open they are to drafting undersized right-handed pitchers or whether they prefer skills to tools. But every organization, regardless of their prevailing philosophical stripe, covets hitters with power. It’s easy to identify power hitters at the major league level, irrespective of what measure you’re using. The traditional counting stats are grossly overvalued and rife with weaknesses, but it’s rather difficult to, say, hit 45 homers and somehow suck.
Tabbing power hitters in the early gestation periods is a bit more difficult. On the one hand, there was little doubt that Vladimir Guerrero and Alex Rodriguez, even as minor-leaguers, would one day be knocking the ever-loving crap out of the ball at the highest level. But what about Magglio Ordonez or Sammy Sosa, whose minor-league numbers hardly inspired hopes of greatness to come? What can we learn from today’s generation of power hitters?
To begin answering this question, I’ve taken the top 25 active leaders in slugging percentage (as of the end of the 2002 season) and analyzed their minor league power indicators.
In the last two weeks, I divided up some current (or semi-current) major league pitchers with the idea of examining their minor league statistics and how those reflected on their major league performances. Group A was the “good” group. Peopled with active luminaries like Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, and Randy Johnson, Group A comprised all current pitchers who’ve spent the majority of their careers as starters and thrown, as of the end of 2002, at last 1,000 innings in the majors, all while posting a career park-adjusted ERA+ (the pitcher’s ERA relative to the league average) of at least 110 (meaning an ERA at least 10% better than the league average). Also in the mix are a handful of quality young arms who have pitched at least 500 innings and maintained a park-adjusted ERA+ of at least 120. Group B included all active pitchers who have, as of the end of the 2002 season, pitched at least 500 innings and posted a park-adjusted ERA+ of 95 or less (at least 5% worse than the league average). In both instances, I attempted to isolate those minor league innings that are developmental in nature–i.e., not an injury rehab assignment or late-career retread work. The results were quite surprising. Group B, those pitchers manifestly inferior at the highest level, outperformed the denizens of Group A in the minors in several key indicators (K/BB ratio, K/9, BB/9). Group A fared better in HR/9 and ERA. This led me to wonder two things: is home run rate an undervalued augury of success, and does Group A show a clear advantage in hit rate?
As you’ll recall, last week we took a gander at the minor-league careers of today’s elite pitchers. This time around, it’s the less-than-stellar crowd that gets the once-over.
It’s a group I like to call Group B: all active pitchers who have, as of the end of the 2002 season, pitched at least 500 innings and posted a park-adjusted ERA+ of 95 or less (at least five percent worse than the league average). Just like last time, I’ve attempted to isolate those minor-league innings that are developmental in nature–i.e., not an injury rehab assignment or late-career retread work.
Dayn Perry debuts his Can Of Corn column with a look at some of the greatest pitchers of this generation and how they fared in the minor leagues. Hint: not as well as you’d think.
The notion of “freely available talent” is something of a Sabermetric piety. Savvy waiver claims and judicious use of the Rule 5 draft are two sources, but it’s mostly by trawling through the minor-league free agents each year that many organizations fill their holes at the highest level.