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The Strike Zone


Not that I care about increased offense (I love baseball all the same),
but no one in baseball looks at the strike zone, or how it is called.
It's obvious some umpires have a more liberal strike zone than others,
and I was wondering if any of you know of any empirical studies done on
different umpires.

My guess is that umpires with too liberal or
too conservative a measure of the strike zone should have extremely
variant K/BB ratios in the games they ump. A liberal ump would decrease
this ratio and a conservative ump would tend to increase it. So I did
a little test, with two particular games that caught my eye.

On April 16, the Indians and Rangers combined for 24 strikeouts. Oddly
enough, Esteban Loaiza had 11 of those in his eight innings of
work; that's weird because in his other 60+ innings, he has had only 27
Ks. Without seeing the game, I surmised that the plate ump that day had
a liberal strike zone. The ump: Greg Bonin.

The AL K/BB ratio so far this season is 1.68; the NL ratio is 1.72,
let's call it 1.7 for MLB. Bonin, in 10 games this year, has logged 68
walks and 142 strikeouts for a 2.08 K/BB ratio, 22% above the MLB
average.

On April 29, the Brewers and Astros combined to walk 24 times in a
game. The home-plate ump in that game, Andrew Fletcher, in 10 games
this year has rung up 106 strikeouts and 80 walks for a 1.32 K/BB
ratio, about 22% below the MLB average.

Maybe I'm wrong, but 22% seems like a lot. It's early in the season, and I
expect studies like mine to normalize, but it's something people in
baseball should track. Umpires who deviate too much from the norm over
time must be scouted by the league to see if they are doing their jobs
properly. Of course the union would have a problem with this, but I
digress.

If Eric Gregg were still around, this would be a little bit more fun.

--CS

How the strike zones of home plate umpires affect a game piqued my
curiosity a couple of years ago, too. I decided to
track
the data for the 1998 season

to see what I could see.

Many of the umpires listed are no longer with us, having been led like
sheep to the slaughter by the wily Richie Phillips and his cunning
resignation scheme. Nevertheless, based on watching far too much
baseball, I’d venture to say that data spread isn’t any different today.
The most surprising thing to me was that an extra two or three strikes
per 100 pitches increases offense to the tune of almost two runs
per game.

Unfortunately, I didn’t track strikeouts, so I can’t compare full-season
numbers to the ones that you calculated for the first third of this
season; however, your proposition that larger strike zones produce
higher K/BB ratios certainly passes the sanity test.

Collecting this data is something that Major League Baseball could,
and probably should, do. Are they? Beats the heck out of me, but with
Sandy Alderson now pulling the strings, it wouldn’t shock me. Using
the data to enforce a more uniform strike zone would be a Good Thing,
in my opinion. Of course, I’d prefer that they eliminate umpires
altogether and use available technology to get the calls right, allowing
play on the field to be the only factor in determining who wins and
loses.

–Jeff Bower

Sammytime


Wondering what you think might be fair value for Sammy Sosa in
a trade with the Yankees. Not that Ed Lynch would get fair value, and
anyway, I'd like more than fair value, wouldn't you? Brian Cashman
is not stupid enough to give up Nick Johnson, but George
Steinbrenner may be. Lynch could throw in Hee Sop Choi. I'd
like to see Mark Grace unloaded as well.

In fact, how about Sosa, Grace, Choi and whatever else the Yanks want
for Johnson and D'Angelo Jimenez, who might be downgraded now due
to the injury. Assuming he'll be OK, he's better than Alfonso
Soriano
, who's just the kind of sucker pickup Lynch and his baseball
men would want.

I hate it when yutzes call up radio stations and say things like,
"Hey, how 'bout we trade Eric Young for A-Rod?"
But in this situation, the Cubs may have a chance to score big. Here's
hoping Lynch doesn't get a bunch of B-listers for Sosa. If someone
thinks he's worth $15 million a year, Lynch ought to get something
serious for him.

--MW

While I’m totally in favor of sending the Yankees as many players as
it would take to get Nick Johnson, it won’t happen. Short of
getting Johnson, I’d be reluctant to consider any Yankees’ package.
While I like Drew Henson more than most, I can’t shake that
nagging feeling that if the Yankees trade him, it would be because they
expect him to go to the NFL.

The team that should be able to put together the best package is the Red
Sox. If the Cubs could get catcher Steve Lomasney and first
baseman Dernell Stenson in the deal.

The really bad news is that I expect Lynch to ask for (and get) pitching
instead of position players. At least the good news about trading
Sammy Sosa is that it would free up the Cubs to do something to improve
the team, like sign Manny Ramirez or Alex Rodriguez.
That’s just an "on-paper" concept, because neither one would
sign with the Cubs with this management team at the helm.

–Chris Kahrl

Old Business


Just writng to say what a good job you are doing at Baseball
Prospectus
. Your book and Web site have been very helpful for
my fantasy team, as well as being some of the most cogent and
informative baseball news on the web.

I'm curious to know if there is an archive of old Prospectus
articles, or a way to get old issues of the big book.

I've still got my old Bill James Baseball Book from 1991 and
still pick it up and flip through it every once and awhile. It would
be nice to read last year's articles.

--LD

Yes, we’ve got an archive available. The link to it is right underneath
the banner on the front page, or you can click
here to
get to it.
The archives go back to late 1997.

As for old copies of the book, online booksellers apparently have copies
of the 1998 and 1999 editions available:

Thanks for reading,

–Dave Pease

Transaction Analysis Feedback


As usual, I agree with most of your comments on the Pirates.
However, I'm curious about
your stance on John Vander Wal and Ivan Cruz.

Why is getting Vander Wal into the lineup a good thing? His career
numbers are quite poor for a corner outfielder, considering all his
time in Colorado. I imagine that given semi-regular playing time vs.
primarily pinch-hitting, those numbers could improve some, but I doubt
it would be enough. Furthermore, a Cordero-Giles-Vander Wal outfield
defense would be borderline scary-bad (albeit better than the Orioles,
Padres, and possibly Cubs).

Wouldn't playing Bruce Aven full-time be a better choice?

I would like to point out that I like Cruz just fine, and would
much rather see him be the everyday 1B than have my favorite team
sink $24M into Kevin Young.

--KR

P.S. I don't know how they did it, but the Bucs have managed to turn
Aramis Ramirez into a singles hitter. He's hitting
.420/.460/.593, with just three walks in 81 at-bats since his demotion.

Getting John Vander Wal into the lineup isn’t a great thing, but he
is somebody with some value as a platoon player, as last season’s
.285/.381/.439 performance against right-handed pitching indicates.
The Pirates can use somebody who gets on base at anything approaching
a .380 clip. But I agree with your sentiment that Bruce Aven
should get a lion’s share of the playing time. He doesn’t look
like he needs to be platooned at all; my thought was simply that with
a lineup as right-handed as the Bucs have, they could use a lefty bat
to spot start against those right-handed pitchers with severe problems
against left-handed hitters.

As a temporary patch, using Aven and Vander Wal is at least a step up
from somebody like Al Martin. To return to what I considered my
main point, I don’t see it as the kind of improvement that will help the
Pirates get that much closer to contention.

I’m an inveterate sympathizer with minor-league veterans like Ivan Cruz.
I know the Pirates have been denying any intention to let Kevin Young
play third base for any length of time, but moving Young to third to
get Cruz’s lefty power into the lineup might be the sort of big
improvement–since we’re talking about the difference between Cruz
and Mike Benjamin or Luis Sojo–that could make a real
difference in their ability to score runs.

As for turning Aramis Ramirez into a singles hitter, the Bucs seem
determined to prove that where there’s a will, there’s a way. Not just
any franchise pays top dollar to Pat Meares, after all. Those
lily-livered Twins couldn’t bring themselves to do it, yessireebob.

–Chris Kahrl


What you fail to explain on the Royals move of sending
Mark
Quinn
to the
minors
is that they are in interleague play and aren't using a DH at the
time. Todd Dunwoody and Scott Pose have faced NL pitching.
Quinn will be back as soon as they don't have to play this godforsaken
interleague crap (instead of more games within the division). Then the
Royals will have to make the choice between Dunwoody and Pose but
Dave McCarty will probably be on the Royals the rest of the year.

If you really want to bash a team, bash the Twins. They need home-run
hitters and can't find room for Mario Valdez! They have Ron
Coomer
(nice OBP), Butch Huskey, Marcus Jensen, Jay
Canizaro
(who actually hit a game-winning HR), Jason Maxwell,
Brian Buchanan...ugh!!

--BN

Not to be overly harsh on the subject, but the idea that Scott Pose
and Todd Dunwoody have value over Mark Quinn because they’ve faced
National League pitching is damned silly. On the basis of his NL
experience, Dunwoody hasn’t demonstrated he can hit well enough to play
in the major leagues. As for Pose, the last time he played in the NL was
1993, and nobody currently on the Pirates’ pitching staff was in the major
leagues at that time.

Second, the point is mooted by several other factors: the Royals are
playing the Bucs in Kansas City, so the DH is in play. Finally, while
he has his shortcomings in the field, Quinn gives the Royals what they
lack by carrying Dunwoody, Pose and McCarty: he’s both an an outfielder
and a right-handed hitter.

This is all small beer compared to the bigger point: Quinn can hit, and
Dunwoody and Pose can’t.

If you’re really interested in the Royals and a few discussions of whether
or not Herk Robinson is the unappreciated genius or a turnip in a suit, you
should check out what Rob Neyer and Rany Jazayerli have to say about him
over at
www.robneyer.com in their
semi-regular column about following the Royals.

As for the Twins, they deserve what they get, which as the wise taxpayers
of the great state of Minnesota have told them repeatedly, is nothing.

–Chris Kahrl


I disagree that the
assignment
of John Wasdin to Triple-A

was a "punitive
demotion.". The reasoning behind it is is clear: Wasdin has
allowed 11 of 15 inherited runners to score, the worst percentage
in the AL. In fact, this is not new for Wasdin, and you've noted
this problem with him before. Frankly, an inability to pitch with
runners on renders a middle reliever nearly useless.

Wasdin could be an effective pitcher in certain roles but he isn't
going to crack Boston's rotation nor close. In addition, Wasdin's
demotion came at a time when the bullpen had been overworked due to a
couple rough outings and extra-inning games, and they needed a couple
of fresh arms (that's why they went to twelve pitchers). Rob
Stanifer
and Chuck Smith are just warm bodies until Rod
Beck
and Bryce Florie rehab; in fact, Smith was only called
up because he was the only PawSox starter who could have made a long-
relief appearance Saturday night.

Contrary to your implications, the Red Sox have been extremely
patient, in fact frustratingly so, for many of their fans. They seem
to have help in Triple-A they aren't using. Duquette certainly isn't
panicking; if anything he's perhaps being too calm.

--DA

Considering that the Red Sox have several starters that they pull after
five innings of work, a middle reliever with a pretty good record of
keeping people off base, as John Wasdin has, should be an asset. Giving
him the sixth and seventh innings, without inheriting runners in tie
games or ones in which the Sox are down a run or two, could make him a
pretty handy guy to have around, especially when Jimy Williams likes to
reserve Derek Lowe for games in which the Sox have the lead.

As far as moving Wasdin aside so that guys like Beck, Hipolito
Pichardo
and, eventually, Mel Rojas can add service time to
their already overextended careers…to my eyes it looks like a severe
case of wasted time and roster space on retreads, no-treads and
untreadables. While Joe Kerrigan is a miracle worker among his peers,
there comes a point where you have to stop taking the miracles for
granted.

–Chris Kahrl


You suggested that
the
Padres open up roster spots for bidding
,

since it would be no less illogical than their current policies. You know
where that would
lead, of course:

"Now starting...for San Diego...at third base...Garth...
Brooks..."

Hey, you’re talking to the guy who once argued that if fan interest
was all that mattered, there would be years in which the Angels should
just put some extras from "Baywatch" in the infield.

Besides, isn’t Rey Ordonez proof enough that letting celebrities
play doesn’t work? Katarina Witt would look graceful and athletic if she
were the Mets’ shortstop, and she couldn’t hit any worse. Heck, she
was even a victim of the Red Menace, just like St. Rey.

I think Jesse Helms needs to fire up an investigation of MLB’s refusal
to employ ex-East German athletes, because there’s clearly a conspiracy
here. This sort of burning issue is exactly what our founding fathers
invented the United States Congress for, and you and I can thank our
lucky stars that we can count on patriots like Senator Helms to take
up these kinds of critical issues. He’s got his finger on the pulse
of the nation, even if only to remind himself what one is.

–Chris Kahrl

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