Tag Archives: sabermetrics

Voros McCracken is a wise, wise man

From McCracken’s talk at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, reported by Fangraphs:

Just because everyone knows OBP is important doesn’t mean OBP isn’t important. Just because we learned something a long time ago doesn’t mean we should unlearn it. We should keep it and add to it. There are a lot of people who are itching to do the next new thing. That’s great, it’s just that mindset can cause you to forget some of the basics.

“Not to pint fingers at any team, but to a certain extent the Mariners did that. They got so wrapped up in talking advantage of fielding statistics that they forgot they should have a first baseman with an on-base percentage over .280. Maybe that’s unfair. If they were here, they may interrupt me and say no, that’s not the way it happened. But my perception is that sometimes you can forget about the basics when you’re pursuing something new.

“You might say to yourself, ‘I want a stat that can measure this.’ Then video technology comes out and gives you the stat you wanted to measure. There is a tendency to think, “Ooh, I’ve been waiting for this, and now I’ve got it, and it’s the greatest stat in the world.” But you haven’t even looked at it yet. You haven’t looked at what it actually says — what its weaknesses are. There’s a hazard there. You want to know more things than your competition. What you don’t want is to know something your competition doesn’t, and it’s wrong. If everybody is wrong about something it doesn’t hurt you too bad, but if you’re the only one, you have 29 teams taking advantage of your mistake.

“Scouting is still an important a smell test. If scouts all say someone is a terrible defender, and a stat says he’s the best defender in the world, the truth is probably somewhere in between. Scouts say things for a reason, and you shouldn’t dismiss that.

“If you come up with a new number, and somebody says they don’t like it, I don’t think it’s helpful to just keep pointing at it, over and over again. ‘Well, that’s the number.’ Every number a guy like me comes up with it, you have be skeptical of. You have to be extremely skeptical. That’s the quickest way to knowledge. If you don’t believe something, figure out if it’s true or not. It’s a basic scientific approach, to a certain extent. Falsifiable hypotheses, that sort of thing.


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How good is Zach Britton?

The Orioles blew another game against the Yankees last night, but rookie Zach Britton was brilliant again, scattering 6 hits over 7 innings and allowing only one run, that unearned.  His ERA of 2.14 is 5th best in the American League, and he has the 3rd highest WAR among AL pitchers.  In the talk about Baltimore’s good young arms, Britton has gotten less ink than Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman; in the first two months of his big-league career, he’s outpitched both.  Could he really be this good?

There are at least two reasons to think not.  First, Britton doesn’t strike out anybody:  just 5 K per 9 IP so far this year.  Last year, the best ERA among pitchers with 5 or fewer strikeouts per 9 innings was Carl Pavano, at 3.75.  It’s hard to pitch effectively without getting strikeouts.  That suggests Britton’s been pretty lucky; and indeed, his BABIP right now is an unsustainably low .228.  In other words, batters are hitting Britton’s pitches, but the balls haven’t been falling in for hits.  That’s the kind of thing that au courant thinkiing tends to place outside a pitcher’s control.

And yet —

There’s another thing a pitcher controls totally, and that is not giving up home runs.  And Zach Britton is very, very good at not giving up home runs.  This year he’s given up just 4 in 60 innings of work.  That’s a small sample size (league average rate would be 6 HR in that many innings) but it’s been his trademark throughout his professional career.  In 103 minor league starts Britton gave up just 27 home runs.

If nobody homers off you, you can get away with a lot of singles and walks.  Britton is not going to maintain a 2.14 ERA but I think there’s every reason to think he’ll be a legitimate front-of-the-rotation starter.

The less said about the end of the Yankee game, the better, but I’ll remark on one more bright spot — Mariano Rivera blew the save, continuing his record of mediocrity against the Orioles.  His career ERA against Baltimore is 3.15, almost a full point higher than his overall ERA, and we’ve beaten him 8 times, more than any other team.


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First day of a long season

The always great Tom Scocca on the mental state of Oriole Nation as the 2008 campaign gets underway:

Beyond plain categories of optimism and pessimism live those of us who see a sparkling half-glass of water and know for sure that the Orioles are eventually going to take a crap in it.

More Orioles dyspepsia at Tom’s season preview at Deadspin.

My WNYC piece about sabermetrics and Alex Rodriguez (plus a little Orioles dyspepsia for my fellow orange-and-blackers) can now be heard online.

In today’s New York Times, Samuel Arbesman and Steven Strogatz argue that Joe DiMaggio’s streak wasn’t as miraculous as you think. They ran 10,000 Monte Carlo simultations of the history of major league baseball and found that, 42% of the time, someone had a hitting streak 56 games or longer. In every case, there was some player in some season who put together a hitting streak of at least 39 games.

That’s a nice experiment, but I don’t think it quite justifies the headline. The figure below shows that, in the simulation, long hitting streaks were strongly concentrated in the pre-1905 era, when higher batting averages were more common. In 1894 (the big spike in the chart below) the batting average for the entire National League was well over .300. The relevant question is not so much “is it surprising that someone had a 56-game hitting streak?” but “is it surprising that someone playing baseball under modern conditions had a 56-game hitting streak? And how likely is it ever to happen again?” The number I’d like to see is: of the 10,000 simulated seasons, in how many did a player have a 56-game hitting streak after 1941?

Despite my criticism, I’m delighted the NYTimes published this. The main point — that unlikely-seeming events are actually quite likely, as long as you give them enough chances to happen — is a crucial and subtle one, which should be repeated in a loud voice at every possible opportunity.

Arbeson has a blog which is mostly about computational biology and urban planning, not baseball. Strogatz has no blog, but his book Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order is surely very good, based on the lectures I’ve seen him deliver.

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On your radio

I’ll be on the Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC from 1-1:20pm this Friday, March 28, talking about why, from a quantitative standpoint, Yankee fans should get off A-Rod’s back.

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