Open question for discussion: value of need

DMZ · December 6, 2009 at 12:37 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

I don’t understand something in the current discussion and the many many comments about how the M’s “need” more power. I’m hoping someone can enlighten me on the theory at least, if not on the practice.

Say there’s an average team with no first baseman and no internal options. They have two options in free agency for exactly the same price: Doug the Defensive Guy, who would be five runs below average hitting and a wondrous +15 above average on defense. And they could sign Mike the Masher, to get a +15 on offense, -5 defense guy.

Everyone would argue it’s a coin flip in value, right? You’d start to look again for extremely fine differences like whether the team’s pitchers would particularly benefit (or cover for Mike), or if the park suits one or the other. But say you do all of that and those numbers are indeed the same. The average team picks whoever’ll sign first, or knows the manager from the minor leagues, or whatever.

Now what if the team is average by way of sucking defensively and good offensively. The return on both those guys is still +10. Is the theory that they should sign the defensive specialist for balance? How much extra value is that?

And conversely, if the team’s average by way of being terrible offensively and good defensively, does the reverse hold true? How much is that guy worth?

That’s one question: does improving something the team is bad at offer greater gains than improving elsewhere, and if so, how much?

And does it matter how bad they are? Is the return on improving defense more than 10 runs if they’re league-worst? Is there a kind of elasticity to returns, where only the average team values players based on overall contribution?

Because if that’s true, and there’s a value, then we could actually start to discuss this. Say Doug and Mike aren’t asking for the same price. Defense is so highly valued that Doug already has 4 offers on the hood of his gold Land Rover for $20m/year, while Mike is looking at $10m for the next year.

Does the defensively challenged team still want Doug at that price? Or are they better off picking up Mike?

We’ve laid out my (and I’d say Dave’s, to a different extent) view on this — I think all runs are created more or less equally, and you’re as well-advised to take them off the board as put them on, so improving on pitching, defensive prowess, and offense are all equally good. I don’t know of any evidence that if a team needs a first baseman, regardless of how they did last year and how they did it, that they shouldn’t take the player who is so undervalued.

There’s a big caveat to that, which is that (and I know I mention this over and over) in constructing a team you want to get into and through the playoffs there are some things you want to have in place and should think about paying for. But in general, for teams who aren’t budgeting for 85 wins, does valuation change?

What’s the opposing theory, and what’s the evidence for it?

Comments

82 Responses to “Open question for discussion: value of need”

  1. Edgar For Pres on December 6th, 2009 1:02 pm

    I think the opposing theory is based on roster construction. I think the value of these sort of things is overblown but still significant.

    We value players as being +5 runs for example but that is if he was playing on an average team with average construction. If you have a team of players who only hit home runs, the value of a home run will be 1 run since no one will be on base.

    For the Mariners, a player hitting home runs after Ichiro and Chone will have the value of a home run increased because often players will be onbase. If either Ichiro or Chone are on first base every time through the top of the order, the value of a home run vs a single for the #3 hitter will be skewed toward home runs compared to the run values we usually use.

    For example, that means a player who is all power and has no on base ability will probably be slightly more valuable than he would be on an average team.

    Runs you calculate are dependent on the linear weights you use to assign value to the outcomes you deserve. Depending on the other players on the team, these linear weights can be different than the average team. The effect is probably small for most teams but for teams like the mariners that have such as skewed offense, this affect has to be at least thought about. My gut says this affect is probably small but I really don’t know.

  2. Jack.Hartsock on December 6th, 2009 1:04 pm

    I would wager the reason you see many comments yearning for “more power” is because casual fans observe the Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox (all in the top five for no. of HRs in 2009) and link their playoff appearances to that statistic.

  3. nathaniel dawson on December 6th, 2009 1:10 pm

    Simple. All other things being equal, you bring in the player you think will bring in the most gate receipts.

  4. mfan on December 6th, 2009 1:12 pm

    I have a tangential thought on this. It’s tangential because I suspect this is not what people are really driving at in recent discussions, but it does get to the issue of a run saved is as good as a run scored.

    It seems to me a good team should go for defense and a poorer team should go for offense, all else equal. The degree to which they should do that is a complicated empirical question.

    I’ve given the idea that a run is a run a fair bit of thought. I conclude that, in theory, it is not true that a run is a run. If a team expects to score fewer runs than their opponents, it would be advantageous to make those outcomes highly variable, and one way to do this is to make the games high-scoring. For example, I would expect a team that scores an average of 99 runs and allows an average of 100 to win more games than a team that scores 1 and allows 2 even though the difference in runs scored/allowed is one in both cases. It seems it should benefit teams that expect to score more than their opponent to make the games low-scoring, holding the difference in runs scored/allowed constant. One way to do this is with defense.

    The question, to me, is how much does this matter? Should we even worry about it? Or, is the achievable range of runs scored/allowed so small that the effect can be neglected and, in fact, a run is a run? It seems clear that in the 99-100/1-2 example, different outcomes will result and the poorer team would much rather be in the 99-100 scenario. However, baseball teams have a much narrower range to work with. They can’t go out and “trade in” 95 runs of defense for 95 on offense. They may not be able to “trade in” enough runs for it to matter. So, that’s my theoretical possibility as to why a run is not necessarily a run. As I mentioned, though, it’s really an empirical question, and one that I don’t think is easily answerable. (By the way, if anyone knows someone who’s tried to answer this, please let me know. I’ve been looking for awhile.)

  5. lplummer on December 6th, 2009 1:14 pm

    [ot]

  6. winecurmudgeon on December 6th, 2009 1:16 pm

    I’m convinced that the emphasis on home runs and offense is generational. If you only know baseball after McGwire, Bonds, and Sosa, then offense is all.

    On the other hand, those of us who grew up watching the Whitey Herzog Cardinals (or, unfortunately, any Cubs team of that era, which were the exact opposite) understand that speed, singles and walks properly used can be effective.

    Or, to take it to the other extreme, the 1965 Dodgers, with Koufax, Drysdale and Wills, were 8th in runs, 10th in home runs, and 8th in OPS — and won the World Series. But Wills stole 94 bases and the pitchers allowed the fewest hits and fewest runs in the league and had an ERA+ of 116. Koufax had a WHIP of .855.

  7. philosofool on December 6th, 2009 1:26 pm

    You and Dave (and I dare say I–I share your opinion) are right. To win a game your opponent needs to score fewer runs than you do. Equivalently, you need to outscore your opponent. They’re the exact same thing and a run prevented is worth a run earned. I once created a big table in excel to test this hypothesis. In the top row there were runs scored, in the left column, runs allowed, and the matrix was just the pythagorean runs formula. For any point in that matrix, adding fifty runs scored made almost exactly the same (I’m talking +/- 0.5% win percentage) difference as removing fifty runs allowed; twenty runs makes even less difference. There’s no difference between scoring a run and preventing one, at least not within anything like the run scoring environment that actual baseball involves. As far as I can tell, this sure as hell proves the point that if you pay 4.5 million dollars per run scored and 3 million dollars per fun prevented, you pay to prevent runs, not to score them.

    Why do people believe otherwise? I’m not even going to talk about evidence, because I don’t think there is any. But we can speculate on some psychological causes of this idea that a team needs a big bat (and much of this applies to other ideas, like that teams needs aces and closers and so forth.) So here are a few ideas about where these ideas come from:
    1. You hear it and read it all the time. People are built to get information from other people, so we are naturally trusting and when people repeat things enough, you start to believe them.
    2. We’ve always quantified offense easily. When someone hits a three run homer, we can pretty easily say home many runs that was worth. But the relationship between outs and runs is far less clear than the relationship between home runs and runs. That makes offense salient while defense is intangible. We frame the world in terms of what is salient and ignore what we don’t understand.
    3. “If you don’t score, you can’t win.” Stupid platitudes like this encourage people to think things that aren’t platitudes. They aren’t even true.
    4. Good teams usually do have a good offense. That shouldn’t be a surprise, since to be a play off contender, a team usually needs about a +70 run differential. Having that many more runs than an average team will typically involve being better at most things, not just one. Good teams are typically balanced, but not because balance itself produces wins, but because the best players are good at many things and the best teams have many good players. But for whatever reason, we interpret balance itself as a cause rather than symptom of what gets good team to the play offs.

  8. rfhansen1123 on December 6th, 2009 1:32 pm

    [ot]

  9. rfhansen1123 on December 6th, 2009 1:32 pm

    [dupe ot]

  10. Celadus on December 6th, 2009 1:34 pm

    On a reductio ad absurdum note, a team constructed of the best defenders of all time (say a team of ocelots trained by B. F. Skinner to use mitts) that scores 0 runs a season (their teeth aren’t strong enough to swing bats) will lose every game to a good hitting team full of crappy defenders.

    On a more serious note, I believe Bill James said that the American public would rather watch people do something (score runs) than watch people prevent people from doing something (preventing runs). In one of his annuals he did a study correlating hitting and lack of hitting with attendance and found that as hitting declines, attendance declines.

    So while there is no difference in -5 +15 & +5 -15 defense/offense as to impact on wins, it is relevant, all things being equal, to put together a team that entertains its audience. The larger the income, the more money the team possesses to spend on better players.

    Thus, if you have a team that is great on defense and doesn’t score many runs, it might well make some sense to get the first baseman who is +15 on offense & -5 on defense.

    Home run power doesn’t really enter into the equation–people were vastly entertained by the 1985 Cardinals, who as mentioned elsewhere were a good to excellent hitting team for the era who scored a lot of runs.

  11. The Ancient Mariner on December 6th, 2009 1:34 pm

    In general, I agree that a run is a run. I don’t see any reason to conclude that a power hitter is more valuable to a power-poor team than to a team that already has a lot of power. It does occur to me, though, that given the highly interrelated nature of play in the field, that a great fielder might actually be a more valuable addition to a poor-fielding team than to a good-fielding team, and thus that for the Washington Strangegloves, the guy who’s +15 with the glove might actually be more valuable than the guy who’s +15 with the bat. I’m not arguing for that position, but given that run production is linear while run prevention is geometric, it seems to me that it might be so.

  12. CCW on December 6th, 2009 1:35 pm

    The main reasons that people still talk about needing a “big bat” are (1) they still don’t understand the value of defense, and (2) they are emotionally attached to home runs. It isn’t logical, but it’s completely understandable.

    One thing thing worth thinking about is that a player’s defense is less predictable, from year to year, than his offense, especially for premium defenders (At least, that’s my understanding). So, in theory, you’re taking a bit more of a risk by paying for defense than by paying for offense. That said, over a full year and 7 or 8 positions where you’re really paying top dollar for defense, it ought to even out.

    Bottom line: the answer to DMZ’s question is probably not based in logic.

  13. Five Number Ones on December 6th, 2009 1:43 pm

    Are there diminishing marginal returns for added offense or defense is how I’d think about this. Most things in life have diminishing marginal returns in respect to utility, but I don’t know how that applies to baseball.

    I could see a situation at which your defense is so elite at all positions that the area each defender covers overlaps with other defenders’, thus negating some defensive value, but I don’t think the Mariners have reached that point. As for offense, it’s hard to see how adding more run production could ever lead to diminishing marginal returns, because theoretically you can score infinite runs in a game.

    I’d say that a run is a run is a run is a run.

  14. sparky on December 6th, 2009 1:52 pm

    Others have alluded to it, but I think a related and also interesting question is the extent to which balance within your offensive attack is necessary. Does diversity of offensive talents create something better than simply the sum of it’s parts. Another way to think about this is the extent to which the value of an OBP guy is somehow contingent on the presence of someone to drive him in (or vice versa). I tend to think that the observations really are independent (i.e., that the offensive value of Chone Figgins is NOT contingent of the other 8 players around him), but I’d be interested to see if folks have tried to demonstrate this empirically.

  15. diderot on December 6th, 2009 1:53 pm

    The only counterargument I can think of is the assertion that the addition of one player’s abilities will positively affect another’s, or compensate for his shortcomings. For example, a shortstop who is particularly adept at going in the hole could help negate Mike Lowell’s inability to go to his left. Or the addition of a dangerous hitter behind Adrian Gonzalez would help his value and thus help the team overall score more runs.

    Other than that, I agree that a run is a run.

  16. coreyjro on December 6th, 2009 1:55 pm

    If the reason for the argument stems from the “mo powaHH!!1″ crowd, then I think we’ve established that a run is a run.

    As for Derek’s question, if there is a discrepancy in prices between and run created and a run saved then you take advantage of the price discrepancy, in whichever direction it happens to be.

    As for the marginal value of a type of run, I don’t think it’ll be possible to get to such an extreme that the marginal values are significantly different (basically what philosofool was saying).

    That all said, in application to the Mariners, I don’t think GMZ is specifically avoiding power hitters, he simply knows that it isn’t efficient to sign or trade for power. Rich Poythress isn’t exactly a defensive guru at first base. If the Mariners sign a free agent power hitter you can bet he won’t be right handed; Jason Bay was never going to play for the Mariners.

  17. camuskid on December 6th, 2009 2:04 pm

    Baseball is not an individual sport. It’s useful to deconstruct a player’s individual value but it has to be placed in the context of the rest of the team. Typically this results in balance having greater marginal value.

    An example: a great defensive first baseman is less valuable if the team has a rangy 2b man and infielders with strong and accurate arms. Even great outfielders decrease the value of a great defensive 1b since the 1b will have fewer opportunities to make great defensive plays. Thus a strong team defense mitigates the value of any individual players’ defensive strength.

    Make sense?

  18. bookbook on December 6th, 2009 2:04 pm

    I 97% agree that a run is a run is a run (prevented). Yet, it’s more interesting to disagree with you guys than to agree, so I’ll try.

    Versatility can help a team. Taken to the extremes, if there’s no one on the team who can drive the ball, 80 mph control specialists who never walk anybody might have an inordinate advantage against your team. For the same reason you don’t want 9 line-drive lefties in the line-up, despite the advantage to having those players at Safeco, it’s ideal to have more than one approach at the plate in your manager’s toolbox.

    I could imagine that a team with a spectacular CF (us), would get slightly less value from a spectacular defensive LF and RF because the gaps are already covered. I could imagine that a team with great defensive 2b and 3b, might have less need of Ozzie Smith at SS vs Ernie Banks.

    I’m sure it’s a tiny overlap but it’s there.

    A team with 9 Juan Gonzalez’s might actually need to turn one or two or three into equally valuable – but better fitted to team construction – Ichiro Suzukis or the like. The converse may be less true, in that high OBP beats you up no matter what, but still it is difficult to put together long sequence offensive production even with a bunch of .400′s.

  19. snapper on December 6th, 2009 2:07 pm

    Runs you calculate are dependent on the linear weights you use to assign value to the outcomes you deserve. Depending on the other players on the team, these linear weights can be different than the average team. The effect is probably small for most teams but for teams like the mariners that have such as skewed offense, this affect has to be at least thought about. My gut says this affect is probably small but I really don’t know.

    I think Edgar has it exactly right. The “a run is a run” thinking is based on linear-weights values of events that ignore context.

    But, real games are won by events that happen in context. Having poor SLG% reduces the value of your OBP% and having poor OBP% reduces the value of your slugging.

    In the top row there were runs scored, in the left column, runs allowed, and the matrix was just the pythagorean runs formula. For any point in that matrix, adding fifty runs scored made almost exactly the same (I’m talking +/- 0.5% win percentage) difference as removing fifty runs allowed; twenty runs makes even less difference. There’s no difference between scoring a run and preventing one, at least not within anything like the run scoring environment that actual baseball involves.

    Philosofool, this doesn’t prove your point. The Pythag formula is an estimator, not a representation of how runs really translate into wins.

  20. coreyjro on December 6th, 2009 2:08 pm

    An example: a great defensive first baseman is less valuable if the team has a rangy 2b man and infielders with strong and accurate arms. Even great outfielders decrease the value of a great defensive 1b since the 1b will have fewer opportunities to make great defensive plays. Thus a strong team defense mitigates the value of any individual players’ defensive strength.

    Anecdotally it does make sense. Most of the data indicates that players’ areas don’t overlap as one might think. So yes, Jack Wilson’s range might make up for Jose Lopez occasionally, but for the most part is very rare.

  21. Bender on December 6th, 2009 2:15 pm

    I think there actually may be a difference between runs prevented and runs scored. You can only prevent runs the other team is scoring, but you can score a theoretically limitless number. This is a thought that just came to me, but maybe it holds water.

    For instance, the day Roger Clemens struck out 20 Mariners, the value of his defense was diminished because there were so few balls in play. The M’s didn’t have that many potential runs to score. I don’t know the answers, but lets say that even if the rocket had a horrible defense behind him, the Mariners could only had 7 outs in the field so shouldn’t the horribleness of that defense be relatively reduced? What if on that day Clemens had the best defense ever behind him, doesn’t he reduce their potential by limiting balls in play?

    Now that’s an extreme example, but it kind of illustrates my point. On the other hand, if you’ve got a bunch of mashers who hit home runs constantly, they could score as many as they want.

    I guess it comes down to a basic difference between creating something and preventing something. You can create as much as you are able, you can only prevent what’s given to you to prevent. In effect prevention may have more of a built in limit than creation.

  22. DaveValleDrinkNight on December 6th, 2009 2:20 pm

    [ot]

  23. joser on December 6th, 2009 2:34 pm

    [ot]

  24. bilbo27 on December 6th, 2009 2:38 pm

    I think in general, a run is a run, whether saved on defense or achieved on offense.

    However, in this specific example, if the team is awful defensively, particularly the infield; I’d take the defensive 1st basemen. The reason being that he might be able to save a lot more runs than is typical for him on a bad defensive team, due to the fact that a he’ll be able to perhaps pick a lot of bad throws that the other guy wouldn’t have been able to. And considering the rest of the infield is awful, he’d probably get a higher percentage of bad throws than is typical and thus you might expect he might increase his normal +15 runs a bit; though of course only if the other team(s) he was producing that +15 on weren’t just like your team with bad defensive infielders. And you’d have to judge if your infield is bad just because they have no range or that sort of thing. Or if they also make a lot of bad throws.

    Another thing to consider, obviously defense tends to be more consistant than offense. And if the player is an aging slugger who might be on the decline (*cough* Richie Sexson). You might go with the defensive guy, just because the defense will probably still be there (particularly at first) as he ages. The offensive slugger will surely decline and also every now and then guys just have bad years at the plate, but a great defensive player is typical great from year to year. Or with at least more consistantcy.

    So maybe I’ve changed my mind and say, all other things being equal, I’d take the defensive guy.

  25. Breadbaker on December 6th, 2009 2:39 pm

    This is the rare case where the math clearly is neutral, so management’s instincts about what you can’t measure (and you can’t measure everything) should kick in.

  26. Gibbo on December 6th, 2009 2:43 pm

    A couple of points/questions….. if you had a top fielding 2B that can cover some of the weaknesses that the Masher has wouldn’t you take him… eventually you still need to score runs to win a game.

    I know the run saved is the same as a run scored deal and buy into it. But if you win a game 2-0, you still have to outscore the opposition and if both teams have stellar pitching and defense on a particular day then eventually the team that hits a line drive then a HR (that not even the best defense in the world could of saved) then isn’t that a case where the importance of offense is more important than defense?

    I understand that a top defense is required to keep you in the game but my point is you can’t win a game 0 to -1 and eventually have to score runs.

    I am sure someone has challenged this before, but am new to this way of looking at baseball… so go easy ;-)

    P.S…. thanks for all of your input and help in developing an additional way to evaluating baseball.

  27. teacherrefpoet on December 6th, 2009 2:54 pm

    Maybe I missed this, and maybe I’m out of my league, but what the hell…

    I’m fairly sure the defensive player would be more or less valuable based on how often the team’s pitching staff lets the other team put the ball in play. If your team strikes out a lot of guys, your defensive ace won’t get as much of a chance to shine…but conversely, you can hide your defensive lame-o, who will expose his weakness more often. If your team is filled with pitch-to-contact guys, defense is more valuable because it is needed more often.

    I’m not sure the difference over the course of a season is enough to justify the difference in pay in DMZ’s example, though. It may be negligible, but in teh all-things-being-equal scenario, this seems to be a sensible tiebreaker to me.

  28. Leroy Stanton on December 6th, 2009 3:18 pm

    It comes down to control. Offense is proactive and theoretically infinite, defense is reactive and finite. The manager for the home team can’t tell his players: “It’s the top of 9th so I need you to go out there and take away 3 runs.”

  29. henryv on December 6th, 2009 3:49 pm

    It’s the top of 9th so I need you to go out there and take away 3 runs.”

    Wakamatsu is now required to do this every game.

    Because our defense is more likely to take away 3 runs than score 3 runs some days.

    Personally, I think the reason is that it has been assumed that in order to succeed you need to have a very certain set of players with certain skills. You need to get power from the corners of the infield and outfield, and you need to have a 40 to 50 HR guy at the 4 hole.

    Defensive skills are difficult to measure or understand.

    And in the age of steroids, ESPN and the end of the newspaper, it’s easier to show a home run than fundamentally sound defensive play.

  30. Tyler Cox on December 6th, 2009 4:07 pm

    I agree a run is a run. The reason I’ve been pulling for a “big bat” is the way our offense is structured. I don’t necessarily think we need a 40 homer guys hitting behind on-base machines like Ichiro and Figgins, but we need someone who can hit consistently and effectively (.355+ wOBA). In the same way two +UZR players can benefit from playing next to each other, I think players with valuable offense can supplement each other nicely. In terms of statistics, I think both players can be regarded as contributing equally to the club. Kinda hard to quantify an argument against that.

    This honestly might be my way of saying I believe in intangibles.

  31. Paul B on December 6th, 2009 4:09 pm

    It comes down to control. Offense is proactive and theoretically infinite, defense is reactive and finite. The manager for the home team can’t tell his players: “It’s the top of 9th so I need you to go out there and take away 3 runs.”

    Of course, a better defense may have avoided the situation of being down by 3 in the ninth in the first place.

  32. DMZ on December 6th, 2009 4:10 pm

    w/r/t what you control and what you don’t… I don’t understand at all. It’s not as if defensive ability is random.

    And as to it having diminishing returns, again, I don’t understand that. Even the best defensive team you could possibly assemble is going to give up four runs a game. The ceiling of a pure-defensive team is a lot higher than can be achieved.

    w/r/t being active or reactive, that’s really… it’s not true. Both work with what the other team gives them.

    The hypothetical manager might be asking his good defensive team to go out and score another three runs, but he’d be asking his terrible defensive team to get him five or six.

  33. DMZ on December 6th, 2009 4:14 pm

    And to be clear — this is not about Jason Bay, or the Mariners, or anything else.

    It’s about the general question at hand, and the search for a cogent explanation of what it is and whether there’s evidence to support it.

  34. philosofool on December 6th, 2009 4:15 pm

    Philosofool, this doesn’t prove your point. The Pythag formula is an estimator, not a representation of how runs really translate into wins.

    Perfect estimators prove points perfectly. Less than perfect estimators prove points to the degree that they are close to perfect. As estimators go, this one is pretty good, and you selectively removed my main conclusion which is that there’s no reason to think there’s some point at which a run prevented is worth a lot less than a run saved. You’ve misunderstood my argument. The pythagorean examination was meant to see whether a good estimator of runs would contradict a more a priori form of argument (based on how runs actually related to wins) which I stated at the beginning of the paragraph that you quote. That argument is

    To win a game your opponent needs to score fewer runs than you do: Equivalently, you need to outscore your opponent. They’re the exact same thing and a run prevented is worth a run earned.

    The pythagorean result was offered as a test, not a proof. Like many scientific results, you take a model which you know to be imperfect and compare other ideas with the model to see if they are in correspondence. When they are, you conclude that your other ideas are better supported than they were before.

    I already alluded to the “real way” that runs relate to wins: for any game lost, you would have won if you prevented x more runs and scored y more runs, where x+y > z and z is the number of runs by which you lost. This positively suggests that a run prevented is worth a run scored. Again, the pythagorean result was offered only to show that a good estimator corroborates this somewhat a priori result.

  35. lailaihei on December 6th, 2009 4:17 pm

    Why even have a discussion, why doesn’t someone run some season sims with a balanced offense (in terms of power and speed), an imbalanced one with an emphasis on speed, and an imbalanced one with an emphasis on power, all with the same individual wOBAs.

  36. DMZ on December 6th, 2009 4:21 pm

    That’s not really the question at hand, though.

  37. Leroy Stanton on December 6th, 2009 4:22 pm

    What does w/r/t mean?

  38. nathaniel dawson on December 6th, 2009 4:23 pm

    Another thing to consider, obviously defense tends to be more consistant than offense.

    I’m not sure that’s true. In the past, this has been the accepted stance, but as we can see by the recent development of defensive metrics, the numbers bounce around from year-to-year just like offensive numbers do.

    And of course, looking at newer offensive metrics such as walk%, K%, and batted ball profiles, a player’s performance is quite often pretty consistent year-to-year but they can have big swings in production due to random occurence.

    It looks to me like there’s probably little difference in consistency between what you can expect year-to-year from offense and defense.

  39. Paul B on December 6th, 2009 4:37 pm

    What does w/r/t mean?

    Probably With Regards To

  40. arbeck on December 6th, 2009 4:55 pm

    Well there has to be a point of diminishing returns on both sides. If you have a team that gives up 2 runs a game, you are going to be successful with even a replacement level offense. And if you were scoring 7+ runs a game, you’d be successful with replacement level defense. So in case one, the hitter would be more valuable than the defensive stud. And in case two, a defensive stud would probably be more valuable. However no team scores 7+ runs a game, and no team gives up less than 3. I think in that mid range, you’re not ever going to hit the point of diminishing returns and a run saved is equal to a run scored.

  41. Leroy Stanton on December 6th, 2009 4:56 pm

    Nothing happens in baseball until the conflict between the batter and the pitcher is resolved. The defense has no ability to affect the conflict proactively.

    If the pitcher is vastly superior to the batter, the batter will strikeout.

    If the batter is vastly superior to the pitcher, the batter will hit a home run.

    If the batter and the pitcher are more evenly matched, the batter will hit the ball and the defense will resolve the conflict. The better the defense, the more likely the result will favor the pitcher.

    DMZ,

    I know you say you don’t understand, but I say that you don’t accept. You can be exactly right in all your statistical analysis (and I think you are, i.e., a run is a run) and yet, human beings will still behave according to their own psychology. That is, they will tend to favor methods which allow them to proactively affect an outcome.

    All things being equal, hitting and pitching will always trump defense for that reason.

  42. Leroy Stanton on December 6th, 2009 5:00 pm

    Probably With Regards To

    Thanks, Paul. I was afraid it was yet another statistic I didn’t understand.

  43. docmarsh on December 6th, 2009 5:21 pm

    Let me preface this by saying the following: a great defensive player is probably more likely to have an outlier year (for the good) on offense than an offensive player is to have an outlier year (again for the good) on defense. Range and hands are a mobile, fluid quality and sometimes the difference between .300 wOBA and .330 wOBA is a lucky week or two.

    However, nobody ever won a baseball game without scoring a run.

  44. djw on December 6th, 2009 5:46 pm

    However, nobody ever won a baseball game without scoring a run.

    I don’t know what work this truism is supposed to do here. I could also say with equal accuracy “A game is never lost without surrendering a run.” But so what? How does that help us better understand the marginal value of adding runs toward greater balance vs. adding generic runs?

  45. Leroy Stanton on December 6th, 2009 5:50 pm

    However, nobody ever won a baseball game without scoring a run.

    I could also say with equal accuracy “A game is never lost without surrendering a run.”

    And you’d both be wrong – a forfeit.

  46. DMZ on December 6th, 2009 6:13 pm

    I know you say you don’t understand, but I say that you don’t accept.

    What the fuck is up with people lately?

    I really don’t understand why running and catching a ball hit by an opposing batter is reactive, while swinging a bat and hitting a ball thrown by a pitcher is proactive. They’re both actions, with outcomes determined both by ability and the situation.

  47. Marinerman1979 on December 6th, 2009 6:21 pm

    The only thing the Mariners need is enough talent to win the West. How that team is assembled is irrelevant.

  48. Leroy Stanton on December 6th, 2009 6:26 pm

    Seriously? You read my post and that’s what you came up with?

    I think I believe you now – you really don’t understand.

  49. djw on December 6th, 2009 6:31 pm

    Well I did say equal accuracy, not 100% accuracy.

  50. ppl on December 6th, 2009 6:32 pm

    If you are the 2010 Mariners, you cannot go sign Doug Mientkiewicz and gain anything by it. Even though he actually gets on base fairly decent.
    He offers very little in the way power by First Base standards, a postion, where defense is a nice assett to have, but is significantly less important than the others.
    But if you are the 2004 Red Sox, you can go get him at the deadline, and play him even though he was not much at all offensively for them that year, and go out and win a World Championnship. Or if you are the 2007 Yankees you can play him instead of Giambi and probably be a better team every time he is on the field, even if you give up alot of potential offense. It so happened that Giambi was injured a lot of that year, but even so, with their line-up, they could get away with a light hitter at First. But if you are Seattle, and you need to add offense of some sort, you gotta make an offensive contribution at that postion a priority, and consider defense an added bonus.
    You never get away with sub-par defense at any positon for very long, but you can win 100 games and not fold in the post-season with a mediocre defender at First. But you cannot get away with it at Third, or Second or Leftfield, without it costing you more games than the bigger bat gains.

    But regarding power, along the lines of the Herzog era Cardinals discussions. Even though some of the all-time greatest “Pitching, speed and defense.” teams from 1965 to 1992, usually found a way to get some power from First base: Astro teams of that era would have a Lee May in the seventies or a Glenn Davis in the eighties. The 85 Cardinals had Jack Clark. I think you can get away with a low power, single digit home run Firstbaseman, even if you lack punch elsewhere.
    So a high OBA, slick fielding First baseman works if he is among the best in OPS despite his lack of power. But I don’t think you can glaringly overlook defense at first in order to get exceptional defense unless you are a team stacked with bats at other postions.

  51. Leroy Stanton on December 6th, 2009 6:38 pm

    Given the structure of the game and a human being’s desire to control their own destiny (i.e., their psychology), they will value the things they perceive give them more control (i.e., hitting & pitching) over things that cannot control, i.e., defense. Why can’t they control defense? Because the defense only comes into play because of another action: hitting. This, of course, causes the defense to react.

    This, I believe, is the answer to your question. And, yes, in spite of the fact that it makes no difference, i.e., a run is a run.

  52. Leroy Stanton on December 6th, 2009 6:40 pm

    Well I did say equal accuracy, not 100% accuracy.

    djw, yeah I noticed that. You should be a politician.

  53. DMZ on December 6th, 2009 6:47 pm

    So the difference is that a left fielder might not get any chances in a game, where that same left fielder is guaranteed to get at least three at-bats?

    That seems like a difference in opportunity, not a difference in action though.

    Beyond which, it doesn’t address the central question, which is whether there’s a difference in value contributed, or whether that value varies by team composition. It does address the perception question.

  54. ck on December 6th, 2009 6:51 pm

    Regarding value of need : 2009 Mariners were near the bottom in runs scored, but stayed competitive by being near the top in runs prevented ( and subsequently played many one run games ) if the 2010 Mariners acquire better players than the 2009 roster, they hopefully will have more wins. Question : Can the value of the role of specialists ( set-up reliever, closer; pinch runner, pinch hitter ) be quatified on a team with so many one run games ?

  55. terry on December 6th, 2009 6:52 pm

    Say there’s an average team with no first baseman and no internal options. They have two options in free agency for exactly the same price: Doug the Defensive Guy, who would be five runs below average hitting and a wondrous +15 above average on defense. And they could sign Mike the Masher, to get a +15 on offense, -5 defense guy.

    Go with Mike the Masher….the error bars on offense are smaller than the error bars on defense so projecting his value is safer….

  56. DMZ on December 6th, 2009 6:53 pm

    The “first base is less important” argument doesn’t apply, though. You can play a good defensive left fielder and get value out of their glove (see: M’s) and you can play a good first baseman and save runs. In the same way you can punt defense at shortstop and put a hitter there.

    And then we loop around to the original question:

    But if you are Seattle, and you need to add offense of some sort, you gotta make an offensive contribution at that postion a priority, and consider defense an added bonus.

    Again, why? Even assuming that they’re not good offensively, why does offense become a greater priority than defense?

  57. Willmore2000 on December 6th, 2009 6:53 pm

    I haven’t thought much about this before, but I was wondering, is it even possible to accurately assess a return on investment with defense?

    Say you get the best defensive shortstop in baseball. Can his value truly be directly related to his fielding ability? Whenever a fly-ball/strikeout pitcher is on the mound, his value is reduced. If he has the best defensive 3rd baseman in the league playing next to him, his value is reduced (since there is an overlap in area of coverage between the two). If the infield has tall grass, his value is reduced.(since the balls which normally only he can get to might now be reachable by say the top-10 shortstops in the league) etc.

    Thus, a player’s defensive value can never reach or exceed a player’s true defensive ability.

    It’s the reverse for a batter. The top batter’s value to a team is not negatively affected by other players on the same team. In fact, his presence in the lineup can elevate the value of other players to that team. Say you’ve got a high OBP guy batting in front of a lefty pull hitter, that elevates that lefty’s value. Or you have a power hitter after one or two on-base guys. Without the power hitter, those on-base guys’ value to the team is reduced if they never get to home, but with the power hitter, the value increases.

    So while there is a reduction in return on investment the more and the better defensive players you have in the vicinity of each other, you get a greater return on investment the more and the better offensive players you have.

  58. DMZ on December 6th, 2009 6:58 pm

    is it even possible to accurately assess a return on investment with defense?

    Yes.

    Can his value truly be directly related to his fielding ability?

    Yes.

    If he has the best defensive 3rd baseman in the league playing next to him, his value is reduced

    In practice this happens so rarely it’s not really worth considering. You can play two astoundingly good fielders next to each other without significantly diminishing returns.

    Beyond which, the same argument you use affirmatively for offensive players is true for defensive players. See: the Winn-Cameron-Ichiro outfield. When the other team is getting fewer and fewer hits because their balls in play are being turned into outs, it does proportionally even more damage to wipe out one of the few baserunners they’re getting.

  59. Leroy Stanton on December 6th, 2009 7:00 pm

    Beyond which, it doesn’t address the central question, which is whether there’s a difference in value contributed, or whether that value varies by team composition. It does address the perception question.

    Oh, sorry. I thought the central question was the perception question. I’ll have to re-read the post. FWIW, I don’t disagree with you on the value question. In fact, I think JackZ has more opportunity by exploiting the (pro-offense) perception. I still think pitching is the key to success, however.

  60. jack_per_conte on December 6th, 2009 7:10 pm

    I believe Leroy Stanton is just basically saying that the interaction b/w the pitcher and the hitter is the basic primal scene of analysis, and that extreme abilities one way or another, in this primal scene, may de-emphasize the value of defense.

    You get your Nolan Ryan up there facing the other team’s Rob Deer, your slick-fielding Doug type at first is likely to be less valuable; just in the context of that battle, you’d be better off having a stone-footed slugging Mike the Masher that put you ahead by two runs the last inning, because chances are, the current at bat is going to end up a strikeout, or a walk, or a home run.

    You get your Jarrod Washburn up there facing their Lou Brock or whomever, then your slick fielder is looking more valuable.

    That was my take, but who knows what’s up with people these days.

    If you don’t think you’re going to compete for a title and you still need to have able-bodied vets to at least appear competitive, I’d stock up on rangy slick-fielding types to make your pitchers look better, so you can try and increase their value (on trades and as free agents).

  61. The Ancient Mariner on December 6th, 2009 7:14 pm

    Leroy: the batter only comes into play because of another action: pitching. This, of course, causes the hitter to react.

    Get it?

  62. jack_per_conte on December 6th, 2009 7:22 pm

    Ancient Mariner — I think that’s sort of willfully mis-reading Leroy’s point. “Reactionary” was probably not the most accurate term for what (at least I take) his point, which is that the pitcher-hitter showdown is the sort of causal transaction that everything else is dependent upon.

    His point, I think, is that the value of a team’s defense isn’t equal from team to team. (This isn’t my point, by the way, but just my translation of what I took to be Leroy’s interesting point.) It isn’t likely an enormous factor, but if you have a starting rotation of guys with exaggerated strikeout and/or walk and/or homer rates, then that would influence your choice of either a defensive or offensive minded 1B, because a pitching staff that gets, say, a ton of strikeouts but also gives up a lot of walks and homers is one that has a higher number of outcomes in which it’s irrelevant whether you have Keith Hernandez or Fran Drescher playing defense at first.

  63. lesch2k on December 6th, 2009 7:28 pm

    fans who dont understand statistics “need” homeruns and RBI’s because they would rather win 86 games and lead the league in offense than win 89 games with a balanced team. this is more a question of psychology.

  64. philosofool on December 6th, 2009 7:29 pm

    Go with Mike the Masher….the error bars on offense are smaller than the error bars on defense so projecting his value is safer….

    I disagree. If each estimate fits a normal distribution, the higher defensive error applies to both sides of the estimate. Hence if your estimate of defensive ability is +10 runs and the error is +/-10, you might get 20 and you might get none; if he’s +10 runs on offense and the error is +/-5 runs, you might get 15 and you might get 5. Either way, the mean value (10) is the one you should use to make your expected utility calculation.

  65. John D. on December 6th, 2009 8:21 pm

    w/r/t: w/r/t

    Some years ago, someone on MARINER USENET wrote an interesting post that included the abbreviation w/r/t. I forwarded the post to my son.
    He was familiar with the abbreviation; noted that it had been used before.
    So I just asked him about this. Here’s his reply:

    The first writer I noticed using w/r/t (with respect to) was David Foster Wallace. He could’ve got it somewhere else, though.

  66. Leroy Stanton on December 6th, 2009 8:22 pm

    A.M., jack:

    What I said was reactive (vs. proactive). Yes, I get it, a pitcher pitches and the batter reacts to the pitch. The point is that they both seek to do something and the game cannot continue until they do. The defense can never initiate any action, therefore they are reactive. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just the nature of the game.

    Also, when I said vastly I meant it, like me pitching to my 6 year old daughter. MLB players are essentially evenly matched with each other as opposed to how they’d stack up against the other 6 billion people in the world. No, I wasn’t clear on that.

    Against my daughter, I am vastly superior (yeah, I’m awesome) so the outcome is pretty much certain. I don’t need no stinkin’ defense! But in MLB, since the players are evenly matched, value in defense is just as useful as value elsewhere.

  67. naviomelo on December 6th, 2009 8:29 pm

    For example, I would expect a team that scores an average of 99 runs and allows an average of 100 to win more games than a team that scores 1 and allows 2 even though the difference in runs scored/allowed is one in both cases.

    I think you’re wrong. The variance in the number of wins that the 99 run/game team would experience would likely be much higher, leading to a wider range of expected outcomes. However, the chance that they would underperform their Pythag record would be just as great as the chance that they would overperform their Pythag record. The 1 run/game team would be just as bad as the 99 run/game team; they’d just be more predictable.

    But when I run the numbers through Pythag, it agrees with you; that is, the low-scoring team would only be expected to win 20% of their games, whereas the high-scoring team would be approaching a 50% rate. Pythag thinks that scoring one additional run and allowing one additional run is beneficial. I’m not so sure about that.

  68. nathaniel dawson on December 6th, 2009 8:36 pm

    DMZ…….

    Is this a babysitting post?

  69. lewis458 on December 7th, 2009 1:08 am

    The answer to this one is pretty easy, and I can’t believe it hasn’t come up yet. Two words: fantasy baseball. More words: FBB is very largely about balancing your investments efficiently and equally around many strengths. And I think I can make the assumption that most readers of a site like USSM play fantasy, and when we play GM, we’ve gotta balance our investments across the board.

  70. rlharr on December 7th, 2009 2:41 am

    Be careful with the Pythag example! It makes a difference whether you assume the team scores more runs than the opposition or less.

    For a team that scores LESS runs, yes, they are better off adding runs on offense than subtracting with defense (according to Pythag).

    For a team that scores MORE runs, however, they are better off subtracting runs with defense than adding on offense (according to Pythag).

    A team aiming at the playoffs places themselves in the latter category. Mind you, the effect is very small when you’re talking about players who are between +/-50 runs on teams that score/allow > 600 runs a year.

  71. onetreehugger on December 7th, 2009 10:52 am

    I don’t remember who said “Half of the game is ninety percent mental” but I think it applies here. While a run is a run, most pitchers seem to have more ‘mental’ problems with power hitters than singles hitters. And power also effects the way they pitch — if Gutierez is hitting third with a power hitter behind him, pitchers will probably throw him more fastballs trying not to walk him than if he has a singles hitter behind him. Maybe statistics show he shouldn’t pitch that way, I don’t know, but that’s the way it’s generally done.

    There’s also the effect on our pitchers. The coach always tells them to not try to be perfect on each pitch but just go out and throw. But if a team can’t score, and they know that giving up two or three runs means probably losing, it puts a lot more pressure on them and some of them don’t handle it well.

    My last point is that for me baseball is entertainment, and while I enjoy good fielding, I truly love watching my team’s runs cross the plate, and I think a lot of fans are like this. Winning is important, but when I see a whole string of low-scoring pitchers’ duel with great defense type games, I start reading a good book and watching the game just when something I find exciting is happening.

    What I missed in terms of the Mariners’ scoring last year wasn’t so much power as batting RISP. I don’t care how a guy on base gets in, I’m happy with a single or double to do it, but another year of stranding guys who got on second or third with no outs is going to take a lot of fun out of the game for me even if we win some.

  72. Toddk on December 7th, 2009 10:57 am

    The defense can never initiate any action, therefore they are reactive. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just the nature of the game.

    This is untrue. In Baseball the defense holds the ball, therefore they initiate every action.

  73. jack_per_conte on December 7th, 2009 12:05 pm

    I still can’t believe people can’t understand the ‘reactive’ point.

    Who cares if the defense holds the ball, and initiates the action? The pitcher would have no reason to throw the ball if there were no batter at the plate. You may as well say the batter initiates the action by stepping in and out of the box. That is pointless metaphysics. Either point gets us nowhere, in terms of strategy and analysis.

    Set aside the pitcher and batter on one hand (the left), and the act of fielding on the other (the right). Broadly speaking, the right hand is always responding to what happens on the left hand, not vice versa. There are subtle shadings of the reverse (a hitter taking advantage of a shift, etc), but the defense has to react to what occurs in the pitcher-batter duel.

  74. ScienceDave on December 7th, 2009 4:58 pm

    onetree,

    A good pitcher on a bad (or average) team is going to feel added pressure to put the team in position to win that’s true. I don’t see how it matters if the team is bad at run production or run scoring.

    It’s not at all clear that a good pitcher on the horrible defense capable offense team will feel less pressure and be more likely to realize his potential. If you’re on a bad or average team with high expectations you’re going to feel pressure and you’re going to find losing frustrating. How many times have we seen a pitcher fall apart after a key error or a double play that wasn’t turned? Bad defense can absolutely get in a pitcher’s head.

    If you have great run prevention and poor offense you are likely an average or worse baseball team but you make your pitchers look even better than their true talent (at least their ERA not their record). Even a dumb jock type pitcher has a good idea if his defense is helping him or not on balance.

    Conversely a pitcher on a team with a transcendent offense may look worse than he is (in terms of ERA not record) because when he gets a big lead he’s instructed to pound the strike zone and make the hitter put the ball in play. I realize we have better tools than wins and earned runs to evaluate pitching skill but they illustrate my point.

    For real baseball teams who are trying to maximize their wins (not their gate receipts) it is pretty obvious that a win is a win and all the reasonable arguments to the contrary seam to apply to unrealistically good run scoring or run prevention.

    I’m interested in the psychology of being a fan of a run prevention first vs. offense first team. I love watching brilliant pitching performances and athletic defensive plays. A great pitcher like Felix is more likely to have a really memorable game if his awesome defense can save his bacon once or twice in an otherwise dominant game.

    I’d much rater watch a few dozen 2009 Mariners games than an equivalent number of games from the average .500 team because I’d be more likely to see that kind of performances that entertain me. I appreciate that lots of casual and fervent fans feel the other way or have no preference and appreciate 10-9 games as much as pitchers’ duels. I am sure I watched more of the Mariners last year because I thought we were seeing improvements in player evaluation and roster construction that could lead to a contender in 2010. Not many people want to watch a bad team with a crazy manager and an inept front office that has no hope of contending for years and years.

  75. ScienceDave on December 7th, 2009 5:16 pm

    Second sentence should read “…run prevention or run scoring.”

  76. MKT on December 7th, 2009 6:10 pm

    rlharr on December 7th, 2009 2:41 am

    Be careful with the Pythag example! It makes a difference whether you assume the team scores more runs than the opposition or less.

    For a team that scores LESS runs, yes, they are better off adding runs on offense than subtracting with defense (according to Pythag).

    For a team that scores MORE runs, however, they are better off subtracting runs with defense than adding on offense (according to Pythag).

    A couple of other commenters have also alluded to this, but rlharr puts it best.

    A run saved is NOT the same as a run scored due to Diminishing Marginal Returns, as shown by rlharr’s example. You can easily show this in a spreadsheet: if a team is outscoring its opponents by 10%, then runs saved are roughly 10% more valuable than runs scored (in terms of how much the team’s win percentage increases). If a team is outscoring its opponents by 20%, then runs saved are roughly 20% more valuable than runs scored. Etc. And vice-versa if the team is being outscored by 10%.

    That addresses the question of runs scored vs runs saved. Derek also raises a more complex and detailed question: what about power? To answer that, one needs a model of how power translates into runs … OBP * SLG would be an example of a simple such model, but might be too simple and too imprecise (i.e. SLG% is not synonymous with power, though it is correlated with it). I haven’t worked out an example, though I suspect that power has diminishing marginal returns too (if nothing else, because pretty much EVERYTHING in life exhibits diminishing marginal returns), but I don’t have a worked out example.

    For runs scored vs runs saved though, it’s very easy: just put the numbers into the Pythagorean formula. A run scored is not the same as a run saved (unless the team is a Pythag .500 team, i.e. gives up the same number of runs as it scores).

  77. wschroer on December 8th, 2009 4:18 am

    I suspect that the run scored by stronger offense vs. run saved by stronger defense is determined by who is pitching and where you are in the game.

    My observation is that pitchers are very much influenced by how their teammates are batting. Speaking about an average starting pitcher on an average team, if his teammates are hitting well, he is more likely to pitch well. Conversely, if their teammates seem to be baffled by the opposing pitcher, they tend to not pitch as well. I suspect this is strongly true for starting pitchers, and less true for relievers. It is one reason real pitchers duels are so rare, and is one thing which makes an ace an ace- an ace seems less influenced and can stay strong in a game even if his team has fallen behind. The less accomplished pitcher just seems to press when he falls behind, contributing to the eventual loss rather than steadily producing at his best. That is what we admire when we see a well pitched game sometimes – a pitcher who just keeps plugging along making his best pitches even if he is behind, going against the typical psychological flow of trying to be perfect in hopes of not falling further behind. Eventually his offense might figure out something and then we admire the gutty performance on a day when he might not have had his best stuff.

    So keeping a run off the board and keeping the starting pitcher from worrying about pitching from behind is likely more important while the starters are in, but the run that is scored later in the game which psychologically might represent the momentum shifting (a purely psychological happening…baseball games do not actually have any real inertia) means in later innings the offense run is more valuable because it either puts another nail in the coffin for the team in the lead, or it appears to be a momentum shift for the team which is behind. Late inning, a great defensive play which saves a run just keeps things mostly at status quo, not really contributing as much to the psychological story of the game, except it might add retrospectively to the seeming inevitability of the outcome the game is marching towards.

    So, early in the game, defense saving a run more valuable since it helps the psychology of the starter. In later innings, I suspect offense runs are more valuable since it helps signal the psychological momentum of the game for both the team in the lead and the team behind, and which I believe then influences performance on the field.

  78. DMZ on December 8th, 2009 7:06 am

    Speaking about an average starting pitcher on an average team, if his teammates are hitting well, he is more likely to pitch well.

    This is not true.

    Really. There is no evidence that pitchers are significantly affected by the score of the game. Truly great studies have been done on this, and it’s just not there.

  79. wschroer on December 8th, 2009 7:30 am

    Can you cite these studies? I am not aware of them and would love to read them, as it is quite counter intuitive based upon years of watching the game.

    How many times I have seen a pitcher try to pitch too fine after he falls behind, especially when the opposing starter has the reputation of being the better pitcher? Hundreds.

    How many times have I seen truly great starters just relax into the game when they have a comfortable lead – challenging the opposing fastball hitters with fastballs, also not worried about throwing a breaking pitch with a 3 ball count when they would be much tighter with it in a tight game? Probably hundreds again.

    A study which disspells the notion that a pitcher pitches differently with a lead would be one I would love to read.

  80. DMZ on December 8th, 2009 7:41 am

    You are, if you think about it, arguing that pitchers pursue pitching strategies that aren’t as effective when they need them most.

    I think there was one pitcher who turned up as a “pitch to score” guy and it might have been Roger Clemens. Tough to remember. I’ll see if I can dig it up.

    But yup: doesn’t happen. Pitchers do their best all the time, more or less.

    Ah, here’s a good study on this
    by Greg Spira.

  81. wschroer on December 8th, 2009 9:37 am

    Thanks for the link – I will digest this study.

    And I am not proposing that pitchers pursue non-optimal strategies, only that situational pitching is real, otherwise there would not be any IBBs. And score certainly is part of the mix of the situation considered – “Do we pitch careful to this guy and not worry if we walk him?” certainly would never be said if you have a 6 run lead.

    Situational pitching could include trying to work the power hitters differently if it is a one run lead.

    So optimal strategy, given any particular pitcher/hitter combination, could and seemingly is influenced to some extent by the score. It is not too much of a stretch to posit that there are many decisions made as a pitcher goes through a lineup which take into account the score of the game at that particular point. And therefore, why not expect, that if it is early in the game, particular runs influence those choices more profoundly?

    This is a bit different than the “pitch to the score” tone of the link you sent, but I need to digest it before shooting my mouth off too much (which might be too late to prevent anyway!!)

  82. wschroer on December 8th, 2009 8:23 pm

    Thank you for pointing out this article to me.

    I am not sure that this study really addresses whether a pitcher does or does not change how he pitches based on the score. It rather addresses whether or not a pitcher’s performance is influenced by the opposing pitcher’s performance (in terms of run support). I am suspicious that the results are just typical of most simple statistical studies of very complex independent events – that is, a return to the mean is to be expected.

    We know there is situational pitching. Certainly that is not in dispute, is it? Otherwise why are there ever IBBs? Why pitchouts? Why relief pitchers – the ultimate situational pitching decisions made.

    We know situational pitching is influenced by the score. So does situational pitching not have any influence on outcome whatsoever? I think this study does not show that because it doesn’t really capture data that would show if this is or is not something that happened.

    Even if you could think of a way to study how score influences how a pitcher pitches, you have the difficulty of teasing out those times when a strategy was executed successfully, and those times in which it was not. Each of these subtle changes are usually a series, but are only easily studied as independent events. It makes my head hurt to think about how you could tease this info out of baseball stats.

    I certainly don’t have the time nor data to conduct a proper study, but it would seem to me that if one had the time and data one could look at whether pitch selection was influenced by score, and what effect pitch selection had on pitcher effectiveness. Or perhaps you could study whether BB vs. balls-put-into-play ratios change based on score – I suspect it would go down if the pitcher has a significant lead as he would be more likely to challenge hitters. But how you could tease this data out, I just don’t know.

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