Archive for August, 2008

Manny, Ortiz, and Protection

Sorry for the light posting this week. I have had visitors in town and dealing with the first days of kindergarten. I saw this post the other day, and I wanted to link to it.

Leigh Grossman at LyfLines looked at how Manny Ramirez‘s presence in the lineup affected David Ortiz this season in response to claims that Big Papi is missing some “protection.”

As expected, Manny’s absence has led to more walks for Ortiz, some increase in intentional walks, and probably a fairly large increase in “unintentional intentional” walks. But his batting average and isolated slugging are higher without Manny, too. On the whole, he’s put up a much better statistical performance without Manny in the lineup. Some of that is obviously a result of the additional walks, and some, if not most, of the additional walks are almost certainly a result of not having a Hall-of-Fame slugger in the on deck circle. But even without the walks, his performance on at-bats when not walking is better – higher average, more power, HR more frequently – without Manny in the lineup. The evidence is pretty overwhelming that, despite the early concerns in the press, David Ortiz’ performance is not dependent upon having Manny Ramirez hitting behind him.

This fits exactly with a study that Doug Drinen and conducted several years ago. Here is a description of our finding from my book.

Though the conventional baseball wisdom—a better on-deck hitter does protect a batter from being walked—is partially correct, the hitter also lowers his ability to hit for average and power.

The evidence still leaves us with a puzzle: why is it that pitchers don’t give batters better pitches to hit when a good hitter follows? If a pitcher prefers to face the upcoming hitter without an extra man on base, then he ought to attempt to avoid walking the batter by throwing more pitches in the strike zone. In fact, this is exactly what pitchers do, but this doesn’t result in more hitting power.

The placement of the ball around the strike zone is not the only method a pitcher can use to get the hitter out. A pitcher in a tight spot can also reach back and put some extra mustard on the ball. The gains a batter receives from seeing more pitches in the strike zone can be offset by the pitcher making those pitches more difficult to hit. Pitchers regulate their effort throughout a game in order to conserve energy for important moments, such as facing Ortiz with Ramirez on deck. An improved Ramirez may cause Ortiz to be walked less, but Ortiz will be seeing tougher pitches to hit.

Doug and I found something else important about protection.

Though we found the impact to be real—it’s more than a product of random chance—the size of the effect is tiny. So tiny, in fact, that it’s best to say that on-deck hitters have virtually no effect on the performance of the batter.

Thanks to David Pinto for the pointer.

SOSH Auction Reminder

The Sons of Sam Horn Auction to aid the fight against ALS is nearing its end. There are all sorts of items up for bid, and it’s for a great cause. Even if you don’t wish to bid on any of the items, you can still make a donation.

World Famous StatSpeak Roundtable

I’m the guest member of this week’s roundtable at Statistically Speaking.

We discuss the following questions, and I include a brief summary of my answers below. You’ll need to visit the site to read my reasoning.

Why did Adam Dunn stay put? It’s complicated, but the Reds shouldn’t have let this happen.

Which player do you see having the “most” impact that will change teams through the waiver wire?
CC Sabathia.

Have the Boston Red Sox lost their minds?
No.

Thanks to Pizza and Eric for and interesting discussion and asking me to participate.

RIP: Skip Caray

I am sorry to learn of Skip Caray’s death. Skip was always my favorite announcer. His irreverent humor and unbiased game-calling have no equal. Yes, he pulled for the Braves, but he would make it known when the Braves benefited from a bad call.

My favorite Skip moment happened about ten years ago. There was a ball that went right by the infielder—maybe it even went through his legs—but the official scorer ruled it a hit. It was a hard-hit ball, but it was a ball that major-league players are expected to make. It should have been an error. Skip was incensed. He complained about the call for the remainder of the half-inning. After the commercial break, Pete Van Wierin (I think) was the only man in the booth, and you could hear laughter in the background. He said something like, “Skip’s not back yet, he’s gone to talk to the scorer.” They then showed video through the window of the scorers office showing Skip poised like a fielder with his hands down.

When he returned to the booth, Skip gave a brief account of the discussion, and he was clearly not happy. I don’t remember exactly what he said, except for his last line: “we did not part friends.”

I’ll miss you Skip.

Did the Braves Overvalue Ohman?

I was surprised yesterday when the trade deadline passed and Will Ohman was still a part of the Braves. Ohman is a lefty specialist capable of throwing a lot of innings, and he’ll be a free agent after this season. He’s a good candidate for deadline deal. So why wasn’t he moved? According to General Manager Frank Wren, the available offers were not sufficient to compensate for his worth to the Braves.

Wren said the Braves planned to keep Ohman for the rest of the season after getting trade offers for the veteran left-hander that included only fringe prospects.

Ohman is projected to be a Type B free agent who would bring the Braves a “sandwich” draft pick — somewhere between the 30th and 45th overall selections in the June draft — as compensation from any team that signed him this winter.

Wren said it would have taken a solid prospect in an offer for Ohman to make it worth giving up that draft pick. Asked if that meant they wouldn’t consider trying to re-sign Ohman as a free agent, Wren said no, the Braves hadn’t ruled out that possibility.

Ohman is worth his services for the rest of this season and a probabilistic draft pick. Ohman’s performance could be worth three potential levels of compensation in next season’s draft. Here’s a primer by Keith Law, and a non-gated summary by Tim Dierkes. If Ohman is considered to be Type A free agent—in the top 20 percent of major league relief pitchers—he’ll garner a first-round pick and a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds when signed by another organization. If he is a Type B free agent—in the second quintile of relievers—he’ll produce a sandwich pick only. If he’s not in the top 40 percent, the Braves will receive no compensation if he signs with another team. Though Ohman has pitched well this season, there is still time for things to go very wrong. Relievers’ performance statistics can move quickly as a result of their limited playing time.

Draft picks are nice, but I’m not sure if the Braves have them valued right, and it’s not because I’ve conducted an extensive study on the value of draft picks. Any team that acquired Ohman would also have acquired the right to the same draft picks; therefore, any acquiring team would value Ohman for this season’s performance plus the probabilistic picks. It is likely that any acquiring team would be a contender—a team whose winning increases its chance of reaching the riches of the post-season. The Braves have no shot at those riches, and will probably not see similar returns to Ohman’s performance. This points to an asymmetric valuation of picks.

If the Braves valued Ohman more than the offers that the team received, than the team must value the draft picks more than any other team. And this leads to the next question: have the Braves overvalued those picks? Several teams apparently think so, and this is a bit disconcerting.

Maybe the Braves are right and the rest of the league is wrong? I doubt it. All organizations are aware of the value of draft picks. Some may be better than others, but in this area I don’t consider the Braves to be the best.

However, another possible explanations doesn’t require different valuations by teams. Maybe the market suffers from some inefficiency. In this case, we had a few contenders vying for a few players. Each team has bundles of prospects that may or may not suit a trading partner. Teams are limited in the types of compensation they can use—straight trades of draft picks are disallowed and pure cash transfers are normally frowned upon by the league. Plus, we have the transactions costs of making this deal. The Braves potential trading partners were negotiating many complicated transactions. Devoting organizational resources for bullpen help isn’t that high a priority when you’re chasing Manny Ramirez and Jason Bay. In a 29 team auction for Ohman’s services with no other distraction, I suspect he gets moved.

I think the latter reason largely explains why no deal went down. The moderate inefficiencies of the free agent market also make me wary of using free agent market valuations the preferred method for estimating player marginal revenue products. This method is useful, and I use it on occasion; but, I do worry about the barriers to exchange in this market.

Did the Braves value Will Ohman? I think that’s part of the explanation, but we really shouldn’t be surprised the deal didn’t go down. A bigger puzzle is why the Reds held on to Adam Dunn.

Addendum: Tim Dierkes points to the work of Eddie Bajek on attempting to reverse-engineer the Elias rankings. Interesting stuff.