You might recall that last year I wrote a trio of articles that examined the minor league pitching statistics of two distinct populations of major league hurlers. One group was manifestly successful at the highest level, while the other group, while not as bad as a Slim Whitman concept album, still didn’t fare to well in the bigs. While far from conclusive, the findings of the study were more confounding and counterintuitive than anything else. It provided more questions than answers, which is usually what happens when you give a former English major the keys to Excel. It was quite surprising to find that Group B outperformed Group A in several key measures like K/BB ratio, K/9 and BB/9. In short, they struck out hitters at a higher clip, had better control and demonstrated more command. The only thing Group A did do better, albeit modestly, was keep the ball in the park and prevent hits (and the latter probably wasn’t entirely of their own making). As such, I’ve decided to revisit this matter with an eye toward home runs and hits allowed–the two measures that favored Group A in the original study. Additionally, this time I’ll remedy an oversight in the first study and bring age into the equation.
The Indians are not only one of the top medhead teams around, but also one of the best-organized front offices. From their pioneering use of databases to the way they have dealt with the Kaz Tadano situation, this franchise is first-rate. My sidekick on Baseball Prospectus Radio, Scott McCauley, is a big Tribe fan. Often, he’ll look like a dog that’s been kicked when we discuss the Indians, but I keep telling him that things are looking up. As the dawn of hope starts to light the horizon, it can appear very dark. Even in the AL Central, that lineup isn’t going to cause a lot of fear, and the rotation has a ton of question marks. Still, as Rob Neyer pointed out, this team could sneak up on people. They won’t be the Yankees, Red Sox or even the A’s, but in the AL Central, they don’t need to be. If they sneak into the playoffs some time soon…well, we all know how to play craps, right?
One of the objectives of the Basics series is to sort of rehash everything that is very basic: what we know now, and how did we get to the point that we know it? Filling in some of the back-story of what’s up in terms of player analysis serves a few important purposes. First, it helps eradicate some of the potential barriers anyone might have to analysis: take a look, and you that this isn’t all rocket science. If even a non-math person and ex-Teamster like me can get it or get some of it, I’m willing to bet that everybody else can too.
But if you like the flavor and you want more, there’s a really important second goal the Basics series can achieve if you’re new to this. Or, if you’re already familiar with this sort of stuff, the series serves as a general reminder to those of us who think we know it all. That second lesson is: When in doubt, don’t quit early.
Whether you call the line of inquiry about baseball that we’re involved in here “performance analysis” or “sabermetrics” or snarky and insufferable, one of the perils of working within this community is that it’s stocked with bright people devising ever-better mousetraps to define player value statistically, particularly offensive value. As a result, you run the risk of getting lost in the inevitable alphabet soup of different newfangled metrics. And rather than try to sort through them all, it’s perhaps easier to settle for a figure that some people refer to as simple and elegant: OPS, or On-base percentage Plus Slugging percentage. And perhaps worse yet, if you’re an analyst, it’s probably easiest to use OPS, because it’s the easiest to explain. As we mentioned earlier in the series, OPS winds up doing a pretty decent job of mimicking a description of overall offensive value. So it works, right? And if it works, and it’s simple, why not use it as a gateway stat to introduce fans to the broader, more diverse world of statistical analysis?
I got an interesting response to Monday’s Hope and Faith piece:
“As one who wrote to complain about your writing off the Marlins last year, I have to say that I mostly agree with your list this year.
My only slight quibble would be with the Diamondbacks’ listing. If Barry Bonds gets hurt, the Giants aren’t too much better than the D’Backs. I think that if a team starts with Randy Johnson and Brandon Webb, maybe if Casey Fossum steps up a little (look at his by-team breakdown and it seems that getting shelled by Toronto twice in SkyDome inflated his stats), if Steve Sparks keeps close to .500, they are not so far off. I hate to see them giving 30 starts to Shane Reynolds, but if they can get someone to take his place and also finish .500, they have a chance to win more than 81 games. (Instead of putting a demonstrably bad pitcher like Reynolds in there every fifth day, I’d much rather see them convert one of their many good middle relievers to the starting staff.)
Sure, they have holes but if you have a couple of top pitchers to build around, and good middle relief, you can’t be written off. A team with Johnson and Webb at the top of the rotation can hope to patch something together and exceed expectations. That’s the same reason I wrote to you last year to suggest you were short-shrifting the Marlins. They had enough good young pitchers that the pieces had a chance to fall in place.
I don’t really disagree, which is why I had the Diamondbacks in the gray area in Monday’s column.
The Expos will lean on Livan Hernandez to carry their questionable starting rotation. The Giants may tinker with their lineup. The Blue Jays wrestle with their starting corner-outfield spots. These and other news and notes in today’s Prospectus Triple Play.