Chernoff faces

In an earlier THT Live post, I talked a little about heat maps and how they can help us compare players more easily without getting our hands dirty. I thought I would share another visual that most will find less valuable in comparing players, and more for the fun of visuals (at least it was for me).

Chernoff faces were created in the 1970s by the man they are named for in order to display an array of multivariable data in a single diagram. In R, the default amount is to use 15 variables. Each variable will dictate the height, width or style of the eyes, nose or hair of the face. In this case, I made faces for the top 29 hitters (by WAR) in 2010. I’ve listed below which variables are showing up for each characteristic of the face.

Size of the face—I used wOBA (height of the face), wRC (width of the face) and WAR (general shape of the face) to dictate the size of the face.
Shape of the mouth—Power makes people smile, ask Jose Bautista. I used slugging (height), isolated slugging (width) and total home runs (curve of the smile).
Shape of the eyes—Batters who walk a ton need good eyes. Therefore, walk rates (height) and on-base percentage (width) are represented here.
Shape of the hair—I couldn’t think of anything here really, but hits (height) and RBI (width) are here. I also made the “style” of the hair set to stolen bases.
Shape of the nose—A general idea about high batting average on balls in play is that they are unsustainable (not in all cases, but let’s go with this notion for a second). Thus, if a hitter had a high BABIP, he is lying about his true talent. Higher BABIP, bigger nose (think Pinocchio).
Shape of the ears—Psst…players with high strike out rates have big ears because they love to hear the sound of their bat whiffing.


Seriously, look at that big smirk by Bautista. Or those small eyes from Carlos Gonzalez or Carl Crawford. Also notice those really small heads from those who are more well known for their defensive abilities (e.g., Chase Headley, Stephen Drew, Daric Barton). I could go on and on with these.

If you see any other humorous expressions from these players, I’d love to hear them. Or if you have suggestions on changing the variables to better portray ball players based on seasonal statistics.

If you have more time, or are interested in other examples of Chernoff faces, The New York Times did an article about Steve Wang, a professor at Swarthmore College, who used the concept to portray baseball managers. It’s one of my inspirations for trying the tool out on hitters.

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  1. ChiSoxPurdue said...

    I don’t want to be non-PC but this has to be said.  The shape of the eyes, totally fits for Ichiro.  I know it is totally not PC, and it may just be coincidence, but it does fit.  Please do not scorn for the comment.

  2. Jacob Rothberg said...

    I think we have all witnessed the point where science has become magic.

    Huge, huge props for this, it may be the greatest thing I’v ever seen.

  3. kds said...

    All you have used are offensive stats, how about some defense?  Use hair; width for position value, height for runs compared to average at the position.  (Weighted by innings in the field to make it a rate stat.)  All DH’s have shaven heads.

  4. Max Marchi said...

    I did the same for pitchers a few years ago on my Italian website (unfortunately it’s off-line right now).

    I remember suggesting Bonderman over Verlander to fantasy owners… not a great piece of advice!

  5. padmanjones said...

    This is outstanding stuff…though I don’t think Brian McCann and Scott Rolen would feel too flattered.

  6. Kevin Lai said...

    @kdr that’s a great idea! Better the defender, crazier the hair?

    @Max I’d love to see faces for pitchers. Maybe HR/FB rates for eyes since they’re constantly looking at the fences?

  7. Dave Studeman said...

    Brian McCann needs a hairstylist.  And I’m surprised Jose Bautista can even breathe, with that nose.

  8. Max Marchi said...

    Actually I discovered the first version is still on-line.

    Here’s the article (from 2006):
    well, it’s in Italian, so you may want to just see the faces:

    I used eyes for BB/9 and K/9: the best having Asian-like eyes (I thought they were squeezing their eyes to better aim at the strike zone).

    The shape of the face was due to flyball/groundball tendencies and the FIP ERA, while the BABIP was shown in the hair (I reasoned that one can easily change his hair style from one year to the next, while you need a plastic surgeon – or a good pitching coach – to modify your traits.

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