Archive for July, 2005

Cleaning Up

I was just goofing around and realized that some of my links to past studies were dead. I’m not sure what happened, but anyway I have fixed the problem.

PrOPS-Star Team

See my latest on PrOPS over at The Hardball Times.

Spam Attack

The comments are under attack via spammers. I had to do some mass deletions of the comments. So, if your comment was nuked by mistake, I’m sorry. Feel free to repost.

Dan Fox: Scout’s Honor Review

It’s a two-for-one Scout’s Honor review day. Dan Fox of The Hardball Times and Dan Agonistes also posted his review of the book today. Dan is the clear leader in the best title award for this review: Baseball’s Hegelian Dialectic. Like Nate Silver and me, he has some problems with Shanks’s handling of Moneyball.

Shanks is clearly setting up a straw man when he says the A’s or any of the other Moneyballers actually view OBP as the overriding indicator of major-league success. I say this because Shanks states in the preface that he read the book, yet his attacks often resemble mere caricatures. Either he didn’t understand many of the arguments, or he chose to misrepresent them. He seems like an intelligent guy, so I can only conclude that he went with the latter approach, perhaps as a marketing ploy (hey, a stathead like me bought the book after all).

Dan’s piece is more than a review, and he says much more about the book than the snippet I provide. Check out his study on high-schooler versus college draftees. It’s fantastic.

Dan’s opinion reinforces my belief as to what the problem is with the book: it’s attack on Moneyball is not just misguided but wrong to a fault. If anything, it’s a distraction to whatever the debate has been. There has been some rumbling among Shanks’s loyal followers that the critiques of Scout’s Honor concentrate too much on the anti-moneyball portion of the book. Well, clearly you guys didn’t read either Moneyball or even purchase a copy of Scout’s Honor —just read the back cover. Shanks’ pot-shots at moneyballers riddle the book. For example, in Chapter 8 Shanks writes,

[Bobby] Cox, [Paul] Snyder, and [Stan] Kasten had all done their jobs according to what they believed the best way to build a winning team. Not through college player stats, not through pricey free-agent additions or by farm depleting trades, but by patience and home grown nurturing. The type of nurturing that was only possible from an organization that relied on instincts of sharp baseball minds and the focus on makeup over math.

This type of statement is quite familiar to anyone who has read the book. If that’s not directed at the moneyballers, then …well, you tell me what that is. And let’s not forget the description put out by the publisher on Amazon, which is similar to what’s written on the back cover:

Stats vs. Scouts. Math vs. Makeup. Computers vs. Commuters. College vs. High-School. The debate is a new one in baseball, and it has recently taken on a life of its own. Ever since Michael Lewis’ best-seller Moneyball arrived on the scene, and spurred by the recent World Series victory by the sabermetric advocate Boston Red Sox, the dispute about the best way to build a professional baseball team has raged out of control – until now. In this fascinating and insightful look into what criteria major and minor league baseball scouts use to determine talent, Scout’s Honor shines a bright light on the job done by ‘old-school’ scouts and their killer instincts. The author uses the success of the Atlanta Braves as the focal point for a mesmerizing investigation into the debate of stats versus scouts, and why, if it’s a successful franchise you’re after, there is no debate about the bravest way to build a winning team.

This book has many good qualities that have nothing to do with Moneyball, that is true. But it’s also true that the main focus and selling point of Scout’s Honor is a rebuttal of the book with the Braves as the backdrop. Shanks states as much in the preface. That’s what’s selling this book, not the recounting of the recent history of the Atlanta Braves. So, let’s please stop this kind of response to the critique of Scout’s Honor. If the publisher wants to release a second addition entitled, My Love Affair with the Braves, then you have a point. Believe me, it would be a better book if this had been the focus. But you can’t continue claim this to be a critique of Moneyball and complain by saying “but there’s more to this book than Moneyball,” when people point out those critiques are wrong. Have some guts and stand by your man, and at least purchase and read copies of both books if you want to comment.

Baseball Prospectus: Scout’s Honor Review

Nate Silver at Baseball Prospectus posts his review of the anti-Moneyball, Scout’s Honor by Bill Shanks. Nate’s critique is similar to mine. Here are his main points.

I’m a big fan of everything that the Braves have done, and of the way that they do business.

That’s why I was so disappointed with Bill Shanks’ Scout’s Honor. It would have been enlightening to read about how the Braves scrutinize and solve baseball problems. Instead, we are left with a series of anti-Moneyball platitudes, most of which have very little to do with the way that the Braves actually do business….

It’s disappointing, however, that Shanks spends so much time talking about philosophy, and so little time talking about the execution of those philosophies. What does distinguish the Braves from the Devil Rays? We never really find out.

The bottom line is that winning organizations execute well. If you’re scouting and developing players, do it right. If you’re doing analysis, do it right. Adopt and apply championship-caliber business practices. Treat your people well, and make sure that everybody is on the same page. Shanks contends that the Braves’ success is a repudiation of the analytically-oriented approach to the game. I can’t see how he connects the dots that way.

No one can, Nate. Scout’s Honor isn’t a search for truth, it’s dogma.

I’m Back

Hey folks, sorry for the long vacation. I was on the road longer than I had planned. I was in San Francisco for the Western Economic Association conference, and spent some time in Atlanta (where I had the chance to bond with my father while putting a tarp on my parents’ house during hurricane Dennis). In San Fran I got to go to a Giants/Reds game, which was fantastic despite the teams involved. SBC park is amazing. It’s impossible not to watch the game in that park. But, can you believe there were no home runs in the game I went to?

I also went to the Braves first-half finale against the Brewers on Sunday with my dad. It was wet, but a lot more fun for both of us than what we went through during what will be henceforth known as “the tarp experience.” Now, let’s never speak of it again.

A few things have happened with the Braves since I’ve blogged. I have some comments.

  • Brian Jordan is out of the lineup — Thank goodness. It was about time. Jordan has been nothing short of terrible. The next Yankee fan to complain about Jason Giambi obligates the Yankees to trade him for Jordan. Only then will you truly understand the meaning of aging slugger. I hope we have seen the last of BJ in a Braves uniform on the field. I really don’t care for him in the clubhouse either. I’m afraid in his spare time he might be able to restart his campaign to get Esix Snead on the team.
  • The bad news is that Jeff Francoeur was called up. Bad news? Hey, he might be the next Dale Murphy, but the magic isn’t going to happen for him this year. I think if this is anything short of temporary—which is possible— it’s a bad move. Yes, I know he’s hit two home runs already, but I’m going to weight his 13 plate appearances in MLB a lot less than his 350 in Pearl, where he put up .275/.322/.487. That’s AA pitching folks. If he hit for a higher average, or walked more, I’d be a little less concerned, but I think his call-up will be a brief stop before going down to Richmond. And I’d like to see him start next year in AAA if he doesn’t get his OBP up—via average or walks, I don’t care which. If Jordan is gone, I would rather see Marte or an acquired veteran in the outfield right now. With the starting pitchers getting healthy, it might be time to move HoRam while his stock is up.
  • Speaking of Marte, finally they’ve recalled him. He’s got nothing more to prove in AAA, putting up .283/.379/.504 in Richmond. Poor guy. There is no justice in the world when the top prospect in baseball can’t get regular at-bats in the big leagues when he’s proved he’s ready. It looked like his day was made when Chipper went down, but little did we know Wilson Betemit would actually start playing like the player he was supposed to be. Kelly Johnson has a monster season in AAA, and the Braves let him wait through a 1-30 slump to start putting up solid numbers with the big club. With almost no regularity in his playing time, and the always present threat of a demotion, Marte has got to be miserable. He’s gotten none of the leash given to Johnson (see how that worked out), which he has earned. I’ll tolerate a platoon with Langerhans if that’s what’s necessary to get him at-bats. Let him know he’s not going down and tell him to stop pressing. I watched him go 0-5 on Sunday. He had a homer robbed, a double robbed (about 2-feet shy of clearing the wall), a deep warning-track fly ball (I thought all three of these balls were gone when hit), plus he had a “hit” taken away by the scorer. But whatever happens, this is a special request to the Braves brass: PLEASE DO NOT SEND DOWN MARTE. Hang in there Andy, the hits will start falling soon.

Defending the Undefendable

What I’m about to say is heresy to Braves fans. And it’s even more outrageous given the timing of my defense. But, I have a confession to make: I think Adam Bernero isn’t that bad a pitcher and he should continue to pitch for the Atlanta Braves. Now, before I get into it, I want to keep something straight. I’m not campaigning to get the guy in the Hall of Fame or even on the All-Star team. My point is that Adam Bernero has been a decent major league pitcher this year.

Let’s look at Bernero over the 2005 season compared three other benchmarks.

 Name/ Group	ERA	WHIP	K/9	BB/9	HR/9	K/BB	FIP

Adam	Bernero	6.49	1.56	7.12	2.51	1.05	2.83	3.97
Braves	Bullpen	4.75	1.59	6.58	4.16	0.93	1.58	4.47
NL	Mean	4.41	1.41	6.50	3.38	1.07	1.92	4.42
Jorge	Sosa	2.78	1.46	6.39	5.19	1.00	1.23	4.95

As you can see, except for ERA, Bernero has performed better or about the same compared to the rest of the Braves bullpen, the mean of the NL, and even Jorge Sosa. Why do I put in Sosa? Well, because Braves fans everywhere our heaping praise on this guy, with some people suggesting he should keep a permanent spot in the rotation. The thing is, though Adam Bernero hasn’t pitched so well over his career, he’s doing things this year that prevent runs much better than in the past. His failures this season have been from being bad in high leverage situations, which are very visible. The runs he’s given up the past two games have been on dinky hits. ERA is a terribly variable stat to judge pitchers, and especially relief pitchers. And concentrating on a few bad outcomes, diverts attention from good performance, on which we should be making our judgments. Adam’s enemy has been bad luck more than himself.

It’s important to remember the advice of Paul DePodesta:

I christened the new model in the front office: “be the house.” Every season we play 162 games. Individual players amass over 600 plate appearances. Starting pitchers face 1,000 hitters. We have plenty of sample size. I encouraged everyone to think of the house advantage in everything we did. We may not always be right but we’d be right a lot more often than we’d be wrong. In baseball, if you win about 60% of your games, you’re probably in the playoffs.

I would advise the Braves to stick with Bernero if he keeps pitching like he has been. Always remember, be the house.

Sean Forman: Using Monte Carlo to Predict Wins and Losses

Sean Forman of Baseball-Reference is the DH at Baseball Analysts today. Sean uses Monte Carlo simulation to tackle an issue that’s been very much the it topic amongst the online sabermetrics community: Pythagorean Win-Loss predictions (see here, here, and here).

Sean does a great job, which is not surprising coming from one of the most meticulous internet publishers around. I’m not sure we’ve been good enough to deserve the site Sean provides. And if you’re looking for a way to search Baseball-Reference even faster, checkout the Fifefox search plugin for the site.