Ten Things I Didn’t Know Last Week

It seems that learning is catching on. Even the Scorebard has a poetic list of what he’s learned from the first two weeks of baseball. It’s hard to follow the Scorebard, but here’s a list of the ten things that struggled their way into my foggy cranium this past week:

The Athletics have developed the most talent now playing in the major leagues.

Alan Schwarz wrote a nice column reviewing the originating teams of every player on an opening day roster. Some of his key findings were:

  • The Blue Jays and Dodgers have developed the most players in the majors. The Brewers and Devil Rays have the least.
  • The Expos and Dodgers have produced the most career Win Shares of all players on opening day rosters, and the Padres and Tigers have produced the least. These results are driven by top veterans such as Sammy Sosa and Randy Johnson.
  • When you just look at those players who’ve signed in the past dozen years, the Athletics and Twins have produced the most Win Shares, while the Orioles and Tigers have produced the least.

That last cut is probably the best report card for each organization’s current scouting and development expertise. However, anytime you take a “slice in time” approach to analyses like this, you’re sure to have some built-in bias. For instance, looking at only players signed in the past dozen years means that you’re looking at a lot of players in early and mid career development.

I may be biased, but I personally like the work conducted by Mike Carminati. Mike looked at all baseball drafts in history up to 1993, leaving enough time for most drafted players to have established themselves. He found that:

  • The 1985 draft, which included Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Randy Johnson, Barry Larkin and Will Clark was the best of all time by a good margin.
  • The 1980 draft, which included Darryl Strawberry and Eric Davis, was the worst of all time.
  • The best single draft by a team was the Dodgers’ in 1968. It included Ron Cey, Davey Lopes and Steve Garvey, as well as Doyle Alexander and Bill Buckner.
  • Four times, a team has drafted players and not seen a single one even make the majors for a cup of coffee.

One of the best fielding shortstops to ever play the game thinks that Juan Uribe is the greatest fielding shortstop to ever play the game.

Chicago has not just one but two astonishingly quotable managers in Dusty Baker and Ozzie Guillen. I say quotable because you never know what they’re going to say. Recently, Ozzie opined that Juan Uribe is the best fielding shortstop to ever play the game. When asked to explain his remarks, Ozzie said:

He catches the ball sideways. It’s weird. To do that, you have to be real good with your hands. I’ve seen (Omar) Vizquel and Alex Gonzalez and a lot of good shortstops, but nobody catches the ball the way he does. You can’t teach that and you can’t take that away from him.

Ozzie was probably one of the all-time greatest fielding shortstops in major league history before he tore up his knee. Here’s how Michael Humphreys evaluated Guillen in his superb fielding analysis, Defense Regression Analysis:

The Historical Baseball Abstract has a wonderful essay about Ozzie’s exciting brand of play, both as a fielder and a baserunner. When you look at the year-by-year chart, you’ll see in dramatic fashion how Ozzie’s outfield collision with Tim Raines in 1992, which, according to the Abstract, cost Ozzie his speed, also caused his DRA ratings to drop. But for that injury, Ozzie Guillen might have had as distinguished a career as a fielder as Ozzie Smith.

So when Ozzie says that someone is a great fielding shortstop, well… I first say “that’s Ozzie.” But I then remember that he was a great fielder himself. And I pay a little more attention.

Last Friday was Jackie Robinson Day.

April 15th was Jackie Robinson Day. The day was cause for a number of Internet tributes..

In past columns, I have said that baseball players generally shouldn’t be looked upon as heroes. They’re just entertainers with the same strengths and foibles as the rest of us. And I believe that.

But Jackie Robinson is my exception. I was once asked if I had any heroes and, after thinking about it a bit, I said yes. Jackie Robinson. His personal and athletic excellence under tremendous adversity transcend everything else that’s ever happened on a baseball field.

Infield foul outs go right; outfield foul outs go left.

Dan Agonistes published some data on his blog that I found interesting. Here are the total number of foul outs by “zone” in each stadium. 3 if the first base zone, 5 is the third base zone, 2 is behind the catcher, 9 is right field and 7 is left field — all in foul territory.

     FO3  FO5  FO2  FO9  FO7 Total
OAK  126  118   55   18   28  345
TBA  120  111   47   24   35  337
FLO  135   80   73   24   22  334
CHA  123   92   74   20   17  326
LAN   98  118   61   17   16  310
TEX  120   90   78    8   11  307
MIN   99   88   58   32   29  306
MIL  125   82   70    9   12  298
ANA   81   92   71   21   25  290
SEA   95   92   69   16   18  290
ARI  107   85   48   18   18  276
DET   83   95   53   17   23  271
BAL  103   73   52   14   26  268
CIN   88   89   64   10   17  268
TOR  115   74   43   13   22  267
PHI  116   80   45   13   11  265
KCA   97   84   58   13   11  263
SDN   87   84   36   23   21  251
SFN   84   65   66   13   17  245
COL   94   64   43   22   20  243
SLN   97   70   54   14    6  241
NYN   90   60   64   16   11  241
CLE   79   72   63    9   17  240
MON   79   69   55   20   15  238
ATL   84   75   30   33   15  237
BOS   81   70   74    3    5  233
CHN   73   60   66   10    9  218
HOU  106   58   38    9    4  215
PIT   79   53   44   18   11  205
NYA   62   55   77    3    6  203

I don’t think this data has not been “normalized.” In other words, the fact that Tampa Bay has a flyball staff may be part of the reason for their high ranking. But it is interesting to see that foulouts occur about 75% more often in Oakland than in Yankee Stadium.

Generally, I knew that. But when you total up the numbers there are 22% more foul outs to the first base side vs. the third base side (2,926 vs. 2,398), yet 4% more to left field than to right field (498 vs. 480). The weaker the foul out, the less likely it is to be pulled, I guess.

Pitchers seem to have about 7% to 10% impact on whether batted balls become hits.

I consider the pitching/fielding dichotomy to be the most interesting sabermetric subject today. Sure, some people like to refine their Runs Created formulas, or go off on a tangent like Win Probability Added or something nutty like that. But properly splitting credit for runs prevented is where sabermetrics has recently seen and will likely continue to see meaningful breakthroughs.

One of the most important recent breakthroughs was Voros McCracken’s finding that major league pitchers don’t have a lot of impact on whether a batted ball is caught or not (as long as it stays within the park). The measure we use to track this is usually called DER, or Defense Efficiency Ratio. Some other folks might call it BABIP.

Over at Baseball Prospectus (subscription required), there have been two new contributions to the research.

What I will talk about a little bit more is my experience with PECOTA. PECOTA needs to predict BABIP, just as it predicts everything else, and it uses all the tools at its disposal in order to do so. This includes previous BABIP rates, strikeout and walk rates, groundball and home-run rates (groundballers allow a higher BABIP), and even hit-by-pitch rates–it turns out that guys who hit a lot of batters are just a little bit better at preventing hits. Throw all that stuff into a regression equation, including multi-year averages for the various predictors, and sophisticated adjustments for park, league and defense effects, and it turns out that you’re able to explain around seven percent of variance in BABIP based on a pitcher’s prior statistical track record.

Seven percent. Meaning that 93 percent is a matter of defense and luck.

A Look at Postseason WPA

I love it when readers email me with something I didn’t know before. It’s like the column writes itself! Here’s one such email from Colin Gerowitz:

I really enjoy the Game In Review feature, and I also like the Win Expectancy calculator spreadsheet you made available. I was playing around with it, plugging in some classic Postseason plays, and I found that Kirk Gibson’s home run in the ’88 World Series swung the Dodger’s Win Expectancy from .142 to 1.000, giving that one dinger a WPA of .858 and making it possibly the “clutchest” clutch hit in postseason history (though I only looked at the last 30 years or so).

Especially if you add in the fact that the pitcher was one of the top relievers in baseball and the batter was so injured he didn’t play for the rest of the Series and never again played as well as he had prior to the injury.

Some other things I found:

Stanley’s wild pitch (-.407) had a more negative WPA value than Buckner’s error (-.385) in ’86 Game Six. Carbo’s HR (.437) had a higher WPA value than Fisk’s (.345) in ’75 Game Six.

The long forgotten (by all but the Royals fans who witnessed it, likely) single by Dane Iorg in Game Six of the ’85 series had a WPA of .726.

What is it about game six, anyway?

Francisco Cabrera’s famous single in ’92 was worth .728. Joe Carter’s famous dinger in ’93 was worth .652.

Edgardo Alfonzo plays better when he’s not fat.

Brian Roberts isn’t the only batter off to a surprisingly sizzling start. As of yesterday, Edgardo Alfonzo was batting .438/.517/.667 with a .399 GPA. He is the primary reason the Giants haven’t set into San Francisco Bay along with the sun while waiting for Barry Bonds to return.

Alfonzo is one of my all-time favorite players. I was very upset when the Mets let him walk, and I’ve been surprised at his subsequent decline. However, he has a bad back, and he’s always looked “chubby,” sort of a mini Cecil. In short, I’m pretty certain he doesn’t take steroids. The theory over at Only Baseball Matters is that Fonzie is hitting because he has finally gotten his weight under control. I’m hoping so.

By the way, if you read that article you probably saw something about Neifi Perez’s hot bat at the end of last year. And yesterday, Aaron discussed Neifi’s hot start so far this year. So what’s going on with Neifi Perez?

Thanks to David Pinto’s day-by-day database, we can piece together some of this info. Since last September 10th, Neifi has batted .355/.381/.516 with an .898 OPS in 93 at bats. Think Nomar (batting .163 with zero runs created) is concerned?

The history of uniform numbers.

Do you subscribe to John Shiffert’s regular email service, 19 to 21? If not, you are missing the work of someone who is the very best at effectively connecting baseball’s present to its past.

His most recent email was a gem, covering the history of baseball uniform numbers. Here’s a little excerpt:

Prior to the current free-thinking era, the best known case of an off-the-wall number was that of Bill Voiselle. A native of Ninety-Six, S.C. Voiselle played for the Giants from 1942 to 1947 under three different numbers, 19, 5 (a highly unusual number for a pitcher, even then) and 17. However, when he went to the Braves in 1947, he donned his home town as his number, becoming both number 96 and the answer to a famous trivia question… who wore his hometown on his back? As best as can be determined, Voiselle set a record for the highest uniform number, a record that lasted until 1963, when the University of West Virginia, celebrating the state’s 100th anniversary, gave their punter number 100 to wear (no, I don’t recall the punter’s name), thus making him, to the best of my knowledge, the only player in any sport to take the field in a regular game with a three-digit number.

And that’s just an excerpt.

There’s a new Pope in Vatican City.

I’m not Roman Catholic, so I don’t have much to say about Benedict XVI. But Batgirl does.

Baseball is from England. Really.

I need to finish with something I unlearned this past week. In my last column, I quoted a New York Times Book Review of David Block’s Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game by saying that “Baseball is from France.” Turns out that was a misreading of the book. Block emailed me to clear it up: “In reality, our National Pastime is undoubtedly of English origin, which the book clearly demonstrates.”

As I’ve said, you never stop learning.

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