Statistics tell more truths than Selena Roberts

The New York Times, with some help from Tom Tango and Leverage Index, blows up the pitch-tipping allegations:

If a tipping conspiracy were in place, one would expect that Rodriguez and rival middle infielders in games he played to have hit better in low-leverage situations than in high-leverage ones. Using a fairly loose definition of high leverage as a L.I. above 1.5 and low leverage as below 0.7, the data provide a resounding answer: either no tipping was going on or it was pathetically ineffective.

Contrary to his reputation as a choker, Rodriguez was actually at his best when the game was on the line as a Ranger. According to data compiled by Sean Forman of Baseball-Reference.com, his combined on-base and slugging percentages (O.P.S.) from 2001 to 2003 was 1.076 in high-leverage situations, compared with 1.017 for medium leverage and .982 in low leverage. Opposing second basemen and shortstops showed the same pattern. They registered an .899 O.P.S. when leverage was high, .825 when it was middling, and .817 when it was low. Unless Rodriguez’s behavior was even more nefarious — tipping only when it mattered most — the numbers give no reason to believe he was involved.

Query: why doesn’t someone from the Times get a comment from Roberts about this?

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Comments

  1. Ben2009 said...

    Just curious – do you think Roberts was lying (as in, she made up the quotes and there is no source) or was lied to (there was a source, accurately described, quoted accurately, but is not telling the truth)?

  2. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Ben—I think the latter, and I think that her journalistic curiosity—to the extent she still has some—was easily trumped by the fact that she really, really wants to believe the worst about Alex Rodriguez.  The “this is too good to check” vibe comes through many times in that book.  Someone says he may have used steroids in high school. She has already interviewed Doug Minkeiwictz (sp?), who was a friend and high school teammate of A-Rod’s. Yet she somehow doesn’t ask him about that.  He later said that the allegation was implausible. I wonder if she asked and didn’t like the answer, or didn’t ask because she didn’t want to know the answer.

    Neither of these examples requires lying on Roberts’ part. It merely requires the desire to run whatever gossip she hears and the disinclination to check it out in any way.

  3. Matt S said...

    Rob, you beat me to my post.

    At the very least we need to look at middle infielders as a whole (minus A-rod and middle IF’s playing against A-rod) to establish some sort of baseline. We than would compare those means to that of A-rod’s and middle infielders’ during games they played against A-rod. My guess is that if there was any difference it would be statistically insignificant.

    A researcher should also compare middle IF’s numbers when they play against the entire league (control sample) vs. when the play against A-rod. Once again, this is probably going to be insignificant but at least these methods would be somewhat useful*.

    Unless the numbers come out significant, one way or the other, we really won’t be able to draw too many conclusions.

    *If someone is going to do this remember to adjust for Park Factors, if I recall the Ballpark at Arlington was a launching pad circa 2001-2003.

  4. MooseinOhio said...

    While I am suspect of many things Roberts writes I can believe the possibility of pitch tipping occuring as I had a good friend play college basketball in the BigTen and ‘deals’ between players were occasional made to pad stats.  For example, my friend played for a strong academic institute that typically struggled athletically and a rival player with NBA potential brokered a deal midway through a blowout to ease back on his defense somewhat so my buddy could score above his average while letting the prospect get more rebounds to make him appear to be more of a complete player to NBA scouts.  The prospect did have a decent ten or so year career with several NBA teams and my buddy loved his time playing college ball but understood his career was limited to college and potentially a few years in Europe that never happened due to a career ending injury as a senior. 

    So with MLB players being connected to one another through share associations with an agent, training with each other during the offseason in Arizona or Florida and FAs moving from team to team breaking down some of the historic acrimony between teams I can see similar deals being struck.  Not that players are throwing games but if your opponent is down 10 runs in the 8th and your former teammate and offseason workout buddy who hooked you up with your agent is up to bat with 2 outs and no runners on then I can see how ‘tipping’ pitches could occur.

    I have no more proof than Roberts, just speculation and cynicism, but if a large number of players were using PEDs for over a decade I highly doubt players were doing this completely on their own and had to be getting advice, guidance, supplies and connections to suppliers from other players.  However we have yet to hear, other than from Jose, how players supported one another in their PEDs usage and again I find it highly doubtful that players did not collaborate with one another.  Of course, I doubt we ever will as the ‘blue wall of silence’ is very strong amongst the players and if pitch tiping were to be occuring I suspect that it would be an equally guarded secret. 

    Again – no proof to support any of this – just speculation and cyncism combined with one anecdotal story of a similar occurence in another sport.  However I am jaded enough to believe that just as a few energy traders were able to affect the supposedly free market electric market in California to increase profits that a few ballplayers could agree to help one another out occasionally on the ball field.

  5. Rob² said...

    First, let me put on record that I agree with the idea that the anonymous accusations of pitch-tipping are meaningless.  Unless someone comes out and goes on record, it’s nothing more than rumor and innuendo.  And Roberts aside, there are enough other people who dislike ARod that it would be all too easy to plant a story like this.

    That said however, these stats are also meaningless.  The primary problem is that there’s no baseline.  Comparing low-leverage situations to high-leverage situations is problematic enough (e.g., just why should we expect that someone would do better in one situation than the other?)  If there was pitch-tipping, the stats would have to be compared against the non-tipped situations, not the non-low-leverage situations, because to do otherwise assumes that every low-leverage situation involved pitch tipping.

    This leads to the second problem:  Comparing stats in this way assumes that ARod had an arrangement with at least one middle infielder on every other team.  Were that to be the case, this would not be the first time we heard about it, and the reports from locker rooms today would be more of the “Yeah, I’ve heard that before,” variety.

    Using the opponents’ stats creates the same problematic assumptions.  We’re supposed to assume that every other middle-infielder was getting his pitches tipped to him by ARod?

    The bottom line is that these stats are being used because they refute the claims in Roberts’s book.  Yes, ARod hit worse in low-leverage situations than in high-leverage ones, but that really doesn’t disprove the rumor of pitch-tipping. Maybe he would have hit even worse.  (How did his teammates do in the same situation?  How did he do when his batting average dipped below .300 or .325?).  Nor does Roberts’s anonymous gossip column of a book prove it either.  But let’s at least try to hold up the standard here and use the statistics to reach a conclusion, rather than finding statistics that support the one already formed.

  6. chattanooga said...

    Moose,

    you’re speculation on the pitch-tipping scenarios are plausable.  Unlike roberts, however, you at least admit to the speculative nature and anecdotal basis for their existence.  This lady is trying to pass that Sh*t off as fact to destroy someone’s character-image.

  7. Sara K said...

    In the interview on MLB Network, Roberts was asked about the idea that team doctors were instructing the players on how to use steroids safely.  Costas says that, according to his information, doctors were presenting information geared toward dispelling myths – what will happen and what won’t happen on steroids.  Roberts’ response was that players aren’t going to be able to have perspective and be objective about that information, that they will (and did) interpret it to be instructions on how to use.

    In her way of thinking, it *doesn’t matter* what the intent was. So what if the doctor’s intent was not to promote steroid use, as long as the players interpreted it that way? It is what the observer understands it to be!  So if these same impressionable players, who are likely to interpret information in such a way as to fit what they want to be true, see Alex setting the defense a little early and interpret that as pitch-tipping, why on earth should she say otherwise?  It’s Alex’s fault for not having been completely unambiguous, right? 

    Joe Poz’s oblique comment on bias in sports journalism got to the point…many of us have a really hard time seeing things in a way other than the one we wish to be true. Sure is nice to have the unemotional digits to keep our perspectives clear.

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