Archive for May, 2004


I’ve turned off the Blogger comments for now. Blogger really goofed on this one. Post as Anonymous or fill out this annoying form…bad idea. I suspect they will fix it, and at that time I will add them back.

Reader Mail

Today I received a piece of e-mail that just pissed me off. I have removed the name of the author, but in the future I reserve the right to post the identity of mail complainers.

How can you have a site related to sabermetrics and link a site like Hardball Times and not Baseball Prospectus. The talent, intelligence, inventiveness, and pure accuracy are all higher at BP. Laughable at best.
Your site is incomplete without a link to BP.

I am sorry you are so self-conscious about your penis size, height, or inadequate attention from your third-grade teacher that you have to complain to ME about your disdain for intelligent baseball writers at The Hardball Times who provide insightful baseball articles on a daily basis to the web with no explicit fee. I read THT. I don’t read Baseball Prospectus; not because I dislike Prospectus, but because paying for good baseball analysis on the web is like visiting a prostitute for sex. In the words of George Costanza, “why pay for something, when if I apply myself I can get it for free?” I have nothing against Prospectus. I just don’t read it often. I do, however, link to Prospectus affiliates Doug Pappas and Jay Jaffe — which I read daily — that offer feeless analysis. If you read my site because of my links, well…that is just sad. If Prospectus switched to an advertising format — think BP brought to you by Spiderman — I might check it out more often. I don’t expect this to happen, nor should it. I think the authors at Prospectus lose about as much sleep over my link list as I do about theirs. BTW, don’t bother writing back; your e-mails now go directly to my delete box.

Clarification: I’ve gotten some e-mail that indicates I am opposed to BPro’s fee policy. Actually, I have no problem with the fee. I don’t have moral objections to fees, I’m just cheap.

The Braves 20% Report

About one-fifth of the season has passed, so I am ready to make some observations about the Braves season so far.

Theme: The theme for the first 34 games has been injuries. Chipper, JD, Franco, Giles, and Furcal have all missed several games due to injury. Assuming these injuries are not chronic I think the Braves ought to be very happy they are hovering just below the .500 mark. What do Mark DeRosa, Jesse Garcia, Adam LaRoche, and DeWayne Wise have in common? They all have more at bats than Chipper. I think if the good players can play together this is going to be a very good offense.

The Good News: Marcus Giles is going to be a star in this league for a long time. I have been very impressed with J.D. Drew. Despite his early woes he refused to start hacking at the plate and his discipline has showed. He is in the Top-10 in the MLB in walks per plate appearance, and he does almost a celebratory bat toss when he draws a walk. This is just the guy we need batting in front of Chipper and Andruw. Speaking of Andruw, he has also changed his ways at the plate. Though he is in the midst of a typical AJ funk, he is still in the Top-30 in walks per plate appearance with his walks nearly canceling his strike-outs. That is big news for a guy who normally strikes out twice for every time he walks. Chipper is solid as usual, continuing his career of quiet consistency. Chipper is one of the underrated stars of the game, and he deserves more credit than he gets. He is having a small slump as he returns from injury, but he should be back to normal soon. Also good news is the play of Johnny Estrada. He does a good job of getting on base with hitting without striking out much. He also has some power.

The Batting Order: I’m not sure what Cox has been thinking about with the batting order. I know that he has had to juggle a lot of different line-ups due to injuries, but guys who can’t get on base ought not to bat in the leadoff spot. DeWanyne Wise should never make a batting appearance in the first inning of a game like he has several times this year. The problem is this guy’s OBP and BA are nearly equal, and he can’t hit. He is fast, but that is not useful for running back to the dugout after a strikeout. But even worse, after Wise was moved down and out of the order DeRosa moved to the top. Luckily, I think something finally clicked for Bobby on Wednesday night. Hampton started the inning with a double. Then DeRo tried (unsuccessfully) to bunt him to third. Your lead-off guy is trying to bunt over your pitcher? This is so sad I think Cox must have caught the oddity of the situation. Thursday DeRo was “taking a day off” and Giles was leading off. Until Furcal comes back, Giles, Chipper, JD, or Estrada need to be in the top spot.

The Pen: Bobby’s use of the bullpen has been strange. Alfonseca and Gryboski seem to have solidified their role as the go-to middle relief, which I think is bad. Gryboski has been very bad at putting the ball in play, and he has been very lucky so far. As I stated in an ealier post, only 10 guys in the league have been luckier than him in terms of the ERAs versus the way they have pitched. This year opponents are batting .190 off the 42 balls put in play in the 14 innings he has pitched. Even if you don’t buy into DIPS Grybo has been lucky. Though Skip, Don, Joe, and Pete always tout him as a great double-play guy, even for the myth that is Kevin Gryboski he has been lucky compared to his own past. For 2002 and 2003 his BABIP has been .280 and .312. Expect some mean reversion. Reitsma and Cruz have been the second tier, though Reitsma has been getting a little more work as of late. I would like to see these guys as the first option out of the pen. And maybe Cruz ought to be starting.

Starting Pitching: Thomson and Ortiz seem to be our top-two. Though Ramirez has the lowest ERA I think he has been more lucky than good. In terms of Ks and BBs, he is almost a dead-on with Hampton who has been painfully awful. The difference? Haracio is getting better defense than any other starter. I hate to say it, but I suspect things will look worse very soon for Ramirez unless he gets his walks under control. When those balls in play start falling he is going to pay big-time. Jaret Wright has been a nice surprise. While he may not look pretty on the mound, his stats are pretty darn good. Look for Cruz to start if Haracio falters or Hampton is unable to get it together.

Other observations: We all know that JD Drew has been smoking Sheff in OBP and SLG, which are normalized for at-bats; but, also take a look at these lines for PAs/Walks/Strikeouts/Total Bases.

JD Drew: 115 / 21 / 19 / 58

Sheffield: 145 / 21 / 18 / 47

Despite JD’s absence from the lineup he has still put together better aggregate numbers than the man he replaced. Will this last? I don’t know, but Drew seems to have been a good gamble so far.

John Thomson has been great. Schuerholz deserves a lot of credit for this acquisition.

Julio Franco is having another good year with an OBP of almost .400. I think he should get the full-time job at first from LaRoche who can barely clear the Mendoza line in a platoon situation. I think LaRoche can be good, but he his really having a tough time right now.

Speaking of tough times, Mark DeRosa is having a terrible year. I think Cox and Schuerholz expected above replacement-level play at third, and they are not getting it. Though I thought DeRo was just toughing out a slump early, I think the Braves will make a move shortly for someone slightly better, possibly dipping into the farm system.

What on earth is Wilson Betemit doing in Atlanta? He is a struggling prospect at this point, nothing more. I can’t see how this is helping anybody. And like Wise, he doesn’t need to bat leadoff, which he has done twice.

Furcal’s injury proves why Cox should never attempt to steal third. Not only was he out, but he has been hurt. I think Furcal has really turned things around with his bat. He was walking more and striking out less before he went down. It really hurts when Garcia gets more ABs than Furcky. Garcia is hitting better than usual, but he is on his normal pace for walks. He has one this year…his first free pass in five years.

Overall: Though I am being a bit negative here, I feel very good for fan of a team that is 16-18. If the injuries are just a blip I foresee the Braves having a good shot at the playoffs.

UPDATE: Well, the Marcus Giles injury changes everything. Schuerholz has to make a deal now if the Braves are going to have a shot. The Braves need a quality Major League level infielder, preferably at third. Also, the DeWayne Wise experiment has to stop if Chipper and JD going to tweak their injuries while Marcus is unavailable. At this point in the season, a deal will be hard to make without giving up someone decent. I think Ramirez, Cruz, and Reitsma may be the best trade bait.

Site Redesign

So what do you think?

I owe a big thanks to Doug Drinen who responded to my innocent e-mail question “How would I design a site logo?” with an actual site logo. It looks great Doug.

I should point out that any crapiness with the layout is purely my fault. Doug designed the picture, which only my CSS-buffoonery could destroy. All praise should be directed to Doug, all blame should be directed to me.

Thanks again Doug!

Update: I unintentionally screwed up everything when I added the new logo, but I think I have now fixed it (more thanks to Doug.) So please leave comments if you are having trouble viewing the site. From my own testing I have found the site looks adequate in IE6, Netscape, Mozilla, and Opera. My guess is that it looks bad in Safari as it always has.


Sorry for the multiple comment options. I am considering adopting the new Blogger comments option, but I want to keep the Haloscan until I am certain. The Haloscan version is not permanent and has a word limit. Blogger’s option is not perfect either, but I think it may be the better option with the separate post pages.

So for now, publish on the “New Comments” section.

Luck in the NL

I got to thinking about the my post on pitching luck. Rather than just focus on the Braves I thought I would post a list of NL pitchers with good luck and bad luck. I list pitchers with residual ERAs (rERA = Predicted ERA – Actual ERA) of greater than three (good luck) and less than three (bad luck).

Good Luck

Good Luck Rank Pitcher Team rERA
1 Pratt CHC 7.91
2 Falkenborg LAD 7.58
3 Simontacchi STL 6.53
4 Randolph ARI 6.34
5 Wellemeyer CHC 5.62
6 Christiansen SFG 5.59
7 McKay STL 5.59
8 Cordero MON 5.57
9 Reed COL 5.09
10 Wendell COL 4.89
11 Gryboski ATL 4.80
12 Szuminski SDP 4.65
13 Perisho FLO 4.39
14 Aardsma SFG 4.18
15 Ramirez ATL 4.10
16 Capuano MIL 3.97
17 Ford MIL 3.85
18 Nitkowski ATL 3.79
19 Bottalico NYM 3.67
20 Burba MIL 3.59
21 Kline STL 3.54
22 Harikkala COL 3.52
23 Kolb MIL 3.31
24 Telemaco PHI 3.26

Bad Luck

Bad Luck Rank Pitcher Teamn rERA
1 Crowell PHI -24.73
2 Estrella SFG -16.81
3 Fernandez HOU -16.26
4 Beltran MON -11.23
5 Correia SFG -8.32
6 Tucker MON -7.44
7 Stone HOU -4.92
8 Wuertz CHC -4.83
9 Hernandez MIL -4.82
10 Choate ARI -4.61
11 Villarreal ARI -4.32
12 Stark COL -4.19
13 Fox FLO -4.17
14 Redding HOU -4.00
15 Mantei ARI -3.91
16 Rusch CHC -3.81
17 Wagner PHI -3.20
18 Biddle MON -3.10
19 Cunnane ATL -3.07

Lucky Pitch

I am really enjoying the stats section over at The Hardball Times. For example, Studes has an interesting article on the effect of different types of balls in play on offense. The most intriguing statistic available is the percent of line drives allowed by pitchers. Now that is a tough statistic to find. So I was inspired to grab some of their numbers to play around with how pitchers are doing at preventing statistical runs instead of actual runs. It is possible that a pitcher can walk 27 batters in a game, strikeout none, and still not give up any runs. Possible yes, but highly unlikely. Such a bizarre outcome would require a lot of luck. Most pitchers who walk three batters an inning give up lots of runs. In the language of statistics walking batters is correlated with allowing a statistical estimate of runs. Sometimes they will give up more, sometimes less, but over a large set of observations we can make an average prediction that will cancel out the extremes. I am curious which pitchers have been lucky and unlucky relative to their fellow players. How much is luck distorting ERAs and our perceptions of individual pitchers, especially this early in the season? Since I watch the Braves a good bit I thought I would use them as an example.

First, I want to start out by estimating a model of pitcher performance. Using DIPS theory as a baseline I estimated a linear regression of Earned Runs Allowed (ERA) and Total Runs Allowed per 9 innings (RA/9) as a function of the factors that pitchers can control walks, strikeouts, home runs, and the percent of balls hit that are line drives. While the first three metrics are the 3 main components of the original DIPS theory, MGL has found some evidence that pitchers may have some control of over line drives, which are likely to generate runs (as Studes finds). The results are:

RA/9 = 2.37 – 0.46 (K/9) + 0.74 (BB/9) + 1.25 (HR/9) + 8.75 (LD%)

ERA= 2.27 – 0 .44 (K/9) + 0.74 (BB/9) + 1.15 (HR/9) + 6.98 (LD%)

The R-squares for both estimates were around .55 with a total of 211 observations of NL pitchers.

Next, now that I have my model for estimating ERA and RA/9 I can generate predicted values for all pitchers based on the performance of these four variables. So how well do the predicted values compare to actual values for individual pitchers? Here are the actual, predicted, and residual differences of ERA and RA/9 for Braves pitchers.

Pitcher ERA pERA rERA RA/9 pRA/9 rRA/9
Gryboski 0.79 5.59 4.80 0.79 5.92 5.13
Ramirez 2.43 6.53 4.10 4.85 6.94 2.09
Nitkowski 3.00 6.79 3.79 3.00 7.16 4.16
Cruz 3.75 5.42 1.67 4.50 5.92 1.42
Wright 3.76 5.42 1.66 4.78 5.81 1.03
Alfonseca 4.50 5.92 1.42 5.14 6.34 1.20
Ortiz 4.78 4.56 -0.22 5.63 4.96 -0.67
Thomson 4.01 3.42 -0.59 4.54 3.79 -0.75
Reitsma 2.87 2.10 -0.77 2.87 2.41 -0.46
Hampton 7.67 6.24 -1.43 8.24 6.79 -1.45
Smoltz 3.75 1.00 -2.75 3.75 1.29 -2.46
Cunnane 7.94 4.87 -3.07 7.94 5.37 -2.57
Braves 4.10 4.82 4.67 5.22
NL Mean 5.17 5.58

I have ordered the pitchers by residual ERA (rERA) with a high residual indicating more luck and lower residual indicating less luck. The standard deviation of the residual difference for ERA and RA/9 is about 3.5 for both metrics. Thus, considering how Gryboski and Ramirez have pitched, they have been the most lucky in terms of their ERAs. Smoltz and Cunnane have been the most unlucky.

So there you have it, fun with statistics.

Why I Oppose Revenue Sharing

The Sports Economist links to some evidence on how owners use additional funds from new stadiums and naming rights.

Economic reasoning thus does not imply that increases in ballpark revenue will be invested in player talent. Better seats, improved sightlines, and general ambience could be complimentary with player talent, but there is no systematic evidence of this effect. Further, as Hakes and Clapp show, the “honeymoon effect” on attendance is of limited duration. The sale of naming rights is more clear-cut. This is a pure cash windfall, and should have no impact on the marginal returns to talent. Depken’s work confirms that it doesn’t – owners simply pocket the cash.

There is a case to be made for investment in new stadiums, but not the one made by Selig. I started with a question, and I’ll end with one for you to consider: Who does Selig think he’s fooling?

As any economist will tell you, the incentives are not right for owners to use additional revenue to help competitive balance.

Braves Notes

– Now that was an interesting transaction….Yesterday, the Braves predictably sent reserve OF Damon Hollins back to Richmond and activated Chipper Jones. But at the same time the Braves also sent down utility IF/OF Mike Hessman and called up IF Wilson Betemit, who hit leadoff and started at SS Saturday night. Why is this strange? Though Betemit was once considered the SS of the future he has done most of his work at third base in the minors this year. He has 21 games at 3B and two at SS. Additionally, most guys who improve their BA by going 1-4 on the day get a bus ticket down instead of a plane ticket up. This year his line reads 224/.286/.368 with 27Ks and 6 BBs, which would be good if he were a pitching prospect. Also, keep in mind these numbers were compiled against competition that made Hessman look like Vlad Guerrero (1.5 OPS), and Hessman posted a .129/.182/.226 line in the majors this year. From this I draw two conclusions. First, Hessman has played his last game in the majors for Atlanta. This was a “we give up” move. He has shown he is an average defender and hitting below replacement level. There is nothing for Hessman to work on or prove in Richmond. Second, I think this is a move to showcase Betemit for a trade. If you are going to stink it up, you might as well stink it up in the big leagues. If they thought he would be their best option as a back-up middle infielder then why has he been at 3B all year.? Something has changed in the way the Braves view Betemit’s place in the organization. I’m not sure if it is trade or what, but when your ML third-basemen has been stinking it up and you get moved to short, then something is up. I also wonder if the good play of Pete Orr, who has played 2B and 3B, factors into this.

– I would like to address the recent surge of buzz regarding the “luck” of Haracio Ramirez. Whenever Ramirez pitches the announcers always point out his W-L record of 0-3 is largely the result of poor run support when he has pitched. It may be true that his run support is low, but unless you are Joe Morgan most baseball fans judge pitchers by their ERA, not W-L totals. Ramirez actually has the best ERA (2.75) among the starters. But here is the bad news. Ramirez’s ERA is the product of some extremely good luck. His defense on balls in play, as measured by his DER, is the best on the team. Ramirez is luckily having more of his balls land near fielders or he is getting greater defensive effort from his teammates than the other starters. He is the only starter with more walks than strike-outs, and only Hampton has worse Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP). So, Haracio’s luck has not been all bad. While his team may be shorting him on run support, they have been giving him more help on defense. You can find the stats on The Hardball Times and ESPN.

Bedtime for Buster

Well, we already knew this, but let me expand. The other day Buster Olney made the case for using a statistic known as POP (Productive Out Percentage) to measure the success of teams making “productive outs.” Basically, POP is the proportion of outs made by teams that advanced runners with a few exceptions. The reason this statistic is meaningful, is that it captures how teams maximize the use of their outs. A hitter who advances a runner in making an out is better than a hitter striking out. While both situations have the same cost, the productive out produced something of value. Olney uses his new toy to poke the “Moneyball” crowd who frown upon bunting and other strategies to make productive outs. He describes the Moneyball style of play as “never bunt, don’t take chances on the bases, sit back and let your hitters hack away and do the work regardless of the game situation, regardless of the identity of the opposing pitcher.” To Olney, the problem with this philosophy is that this style of baseball sacrifices productive outs for unproductive outs, and the net difference in output favors the traditional “smallball” strategy. Olney quotes Detroit hitting coach Bruce Fields to make his point. “That’s how games are won and lost — productive outs, advancing baserunners and getting guys in from third with less than two out.”

As a fan I prefer productive to unproductive outs, but that is not saying much. Of course, all things being equal, productive outs are better than unproductive outs. But the problem is that rarely are all things equal in baseball. When there is a runner on first the opportunity cost of bunting him over is not just a strikeout, it is the entire forgone at-bat that could have resulted in a strikeout, walk, hit, hr, etc. The Moneyballers argue that the forgone good outcomes are more valuable than the foregone bad outcomes.

But, Olney is not convinced by this logic. I’ve never seen him respond so I’ll assume he remains unconvinced by the result that is largely a folk theorem. So I thought I would do my best to test the impact Olney’s POP and some simple sabermetric-friendly statistics (OBP and SLG) on runs per game. Unfortunately, I can’t find the official POP statistic anywhere, but sacrifice bunts and sacrifice flies are both available. Most, but not all, sacrifices are classified productive outs so I think this will be sufficient. I suspect that the correlation between the number of sacrifices and POP is strong. My model is:

Runs/Game = f( OBP, SLG, Sacrifices/PA).

I estimate this model on a sample of all teams from 1961-2003 using an OLS regression with random effects. Additionally, I test a smaller sample of the post-1997 (30 team) era in case the game has changed from the past. It could be that Sac/PA has only recently become important. I ran several diagnostic tests to look for the common problems and the results I report are, in my mind, the best. But, even small changes to the estimation procedure do very little to the results. Here are the regression results. Coefficient estimate in bold are statistically significant at the 1% level or better.

Variable Full Sample Elasticity Post-1997 Elasticity
OBP 15.88 1.18 20.32 1.4
SLG 10.39 0.93 9.19 0.81
Sac/PA 2.62 0.01 -2.65 -0.008
Obs. 1085 180
R-sq. 0.92 0.92

Surprise! OBP and SLG are not only statistically significant and Sac/PA is not (not even at the 10% level), but the magnitude of OBP and SLG impacts on runs per game are much larger. To the right of each estimate I provide the elasticities at the average of the variables. For example, the elasticity of 1.83 means that a 1% increase in OBP is associated with a 1.83% increase in runs per game at the average level of OBP and runs per game. For both samples OBP and SLG are very relevant while Sac/PA has almost no meaningful quantitative impact on runs per game. In the 30 team era, a higher Sac/PA is actually associated with lower run production. But one more thing, the regression technique I use holds OBP and SLG constant for changes in Sac/PA. Maybe Olney is finding some relationship (which he is not sharing) between Sac/PA and runs per game that is correlated with OBP and SLG. It is possible that teams with high OBP and SLG also have more sacrifices. While making such an assessment from such a correlation would be mistaken, it might explain why Olney goes wrong. Below, I present a scatter plot of all Sac/PA and runs per game with a fitted simple regression line.

This does not seem to help. If anything, teams with greater sacrifices are associated with scoring fewer runs per game. I’m not sure why Olney is so confident in his metric.

So what are we left with? If Olney would provide the POP stats I would gladly directly test its effect on run production, but until he does this is the best I can do. Larry Mahnken at THT has tested the “correct” POP statistic on the past two post-seasons, and he too finds results contrary to Olney. Futility Infielder and Talking Baseball (among a host of other sites) have demonstrated the pointlessness of this statistic. The online baseball community has done its part to refute the theoretical and empirical support provided by Olney. It is time for Olney to put up or shut up as to the validity of this stat. I don’t want to hear the phrase “productive out” again on ESPN until Olney shows us something tangible.