THT Mailbag: The new green and gold

Tom Kelley and the team at leading industrial design firm IDEO Design preach, among other things, the importance of iterating. If you have an idea, get it out in front of yourself as quickly as possible to see how it works and jettison it the moment you know it’s not going to work. As he states in the ABC Nightline episode on their process (a design class staple), “fail often so that you can succeed more quickly.”

A’s general manager Billy Beane is reportedly a student of Silicon Valley business practices, and his player moves this season seem to reflect Kelley’s aphorism. The A’s come into the season with hopes of defending their AL West title. It’s not too overly simplistic to say that Rich Harden got injured and the A’s could not realistically contend without him.

As the A’s have fallen out of contention over the past couple months, they have quickly rid themselves of veteran players whenever possible to free up cash and clear the path for promising youngsters. Jason Kendall? Move over for Kurt Suzuki. Esteban Loaiza? Meet Dallas Braden and Dan Meyer. Long time A’s Bobby Kielty and Joe Kennedy have also been shown the door. So as the A’s limp to a hopefully .500-ish finish, they’re at least quietly laying the groundwork for next season’s success.

They still don’t necessarily have enough to challenge the Angels next season, especially if Harden still isn’t healthy, but at least they’ll know what they have. The A’s like to acquire a lot of players and see who sticks, and part of that is giving those players playing time. Sure, you might end up with some Loaizas and Kendalls, but at least you also get the occasional Jack Cust or Chad Gaudin. In contrast with the seemingly comatose Giants front office across the Bay, and that doesn’t sound half bad.

Now, onto the questions:

Two-way players

I was chatting about Micah Owings’ incredible hitting performance at work the other day and something struck me:

Owings has always been a good hitter and he’s always had great winning percentages as a pitcher (30-10 in college; 17-3 in the minors). So, I started to think of other NL pitchers who can hit (guys who’s averages are over .200) and checked to see if their win totals were abnormally high, given the team they play for or their overall performance on the mound.
Here are some examples that I came up with:

Jason Marquis – .213 hitter; 66 – 59 record; 96 ERA+ (played on great Cardinals teams…)
Carlos Zambrano – .219 hitter, 78 – 51 record; 130 ERA+ (played on some terrible Cubs teams…)
Dontrelle Willis – .216 hitter; 66 – 51 record; 112 ERA+ (played on some terrible Marlins teams…)
Russ Ortiz – .207 hitter; 110 – 82 record; 94 ERA+ (on some really good Giants / Braves teams…)
Mike Hampton – .242 hitter; 138 – 101 record; 108 ERA+ (good Astros /Mets teams; bad Rockies teams..)

Maybe this will be a better example… Look at the careers of the aforementioned Willis and Ben Sheets. Both have a career ERA+ of 112. Willis’ career win percentage is .564; Sheets’ is .493. I know that the Marlins’ record over that time frame is better than the Brewers’ (.505 to .460).

Does this make any sense? I’m trying to see if there is a correlation between a NL pitcher’s win total & his hitting ability.

What do you guys think? Is this a waste of your time? I hope not.

- Boomer L., Chicago, Illinois

David Gassko: A pitcher’s hitting definitely has an effect on his record, just like his team’s hitting does. Overall, the effect is not all that large, as I showed in an article on pitcher hitting earlier this year. The difference between the best and worst hitting pitchers is about one win a year, or half-a-run of ERA.

Skewed numbers

How much effect did the Rangers epic blowout over the Orioles effect their Pythagorean record? How many expected wins and expected losses would such a game add to each team’s Pythag record? Is it enough of a difference to give each team’s Pythag record a Maris-esque asterisk at the end of the year?

- Andrew, Massachusetts

Sal Baxamusa: Prior to the game, the Pythagorean records for the O’s and Rangers were (prorated to 162 games):

Orioles: 82.6 – 79.4
Rangers: 72.8 – 89.2

After the game, the Pythagorean records were (again, prorated to 162 games)

Orioles: 78.8 – 83.2
Rangers: 76.4 – 85.6

The blowout was a swing of just under four games for each team! Does this mean we need to put an asterisk next to their Pythagorean records?

No. To put the magnitude of this swing into perspective, the Pythagorean equation has an error of approximately six games in either direction over the course of a season. So if a team was “supposed” to win 81 games using Pythagoras, you would expect most teams to win between 75 and 87 games. In other words, the change due to blowout compared to the random variation inherit in the Pythagorean equation is about 1/3. And it took a once-in-a-century game to have an effect this large. Don’t worry, the Pythagorean record books are safe!

Bryan Tsao: To answer another way, I’ve never quite bought that blowouts invalidate a team’s Pythagorean record, simply because good teams rarely get blown out and are more likely to blow other teams out, which is in part a reflection of their true talent. To me, saying that a team isn’t as bad as its Pythag when excluding blowouts is essentially saying, “This team is good other than when its playing at its worst.” While teams probably do “give up” to a certain extent in blowouts, which might skew the outcome a bit, I feel like that effect is not enough to warrant chucking that datapoint out the window completely, as the performance of the back end of a bullpen or the end of a bench is still important in a team’s success over the course of a season.

Gold love

Will John McDonald win the Gold Glove? All the hightlights he’s done are telling me he is just the man!

- C.C.

David Gassko: McDonald is having a great season in the field according to THT fielding statistics. He’s +11 runs above average in just 78 games. Due to his limited playing time, he trails Tony Pena of the Kansas City Royals, who is +19 runs. Adjusted for playing time, the two are tied at +25 runs per 150 games. Overall, I would give Pena the edge because he has logged more time in the field, but McDonald would be a good choice too.

Richard Barbieri: I’d add that while David’s answer gives a pretty good idea on the merits of the AL Gold Glove, only one player (Alex Rodriguez) has taken the Gold Glove from the incumbent shortstop without special circumstances since the reign of George H.W. Bush. (The special circumstances being A-Rod’s move to third base, which opened the door for Derek Jeter in 2004.)

It is probably unfair, but I would say the chance of a pedestrian hitting shortstop on a third place team in a smaller media market stealing an award out from under Derek Jeter is pretty slight.

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