Off-season fun

November 24, 2008 · Filed Under General baseball · 24 Comments 

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” —Rogers Hornsby

Rogers Hornsby didn’t have a computer.

Now, I’m not saying this is going to be a dull or uneventful winter, but if you find yourself pining for some baseball this off season, here are a few computer-related remedies…

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Strasburg Alternative No. 1: Grant Green

October 10, 2008 · Filed Under General baseball · 28 Comments 

Stephen Strasburg is the consensus No. 1 pick in next year’s draft. Now, as Dave mentioned in the comments here, history shows that the top guy heading into the season rarely ends up being drafted first overall. Still, the Nationals face a PR nightmare if they don’t draft the player *perceived* to be the best after failing to sign the ninth-overall pick this year, Aaron Crow. So, let’s begin to take a look at some of the alternatives to Strasburg that could be an option for the Mariners with the second-overall pick. In part one of this series, we’ll start with Grant Green…

Southern California shortstop Grant Green has been on the prospect radar for a long time. 

He grew up in Anaheim Hills, Calif. and went to Canyon High School. In the fall of 2004, he began playing in wood-bat showcases and the summer after his junior year of high school he played for Team USA’s Junior National Team that also included Clayton Kershaw, Brett Anderson, Lars Anderson and Adrian Cardenas, among others. During his senior season, he was one of the top high school prospects in the country and Baseball America projected him to be a third-round pick in 2006. However, signability concerns caused him to slip and the Padres took a chance on him in the 14th round. He reportedly wanted $1.4 million to sign, which the Padres wouldn’t give him, so he headed to USC where he became the Trojans’ first true freshman to start at shortstop since Seth Davidson in 1998.

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Bonus stadium guidelines

October 9, 2008 · Filed Under General baseball · 27 Comments 

Here are some interesting/funny things I found while scouring every team’s stadium guidelines for my previous post

• The Blue Jays host an annual sleepover that includes dinner at night, breakfast in the morning, autographs from the players and baseball movies on the big screen. I think the White Sox have done this too and this is another idea I would fully endorse in Seattle.

• The Blue Jays specifically prohibit gang colors.

In cooperation with the Toronto Police Service, guests wearing known gang clothing and/or colours will not be permitted into Rogers Centre. Guests will be automatically asked to leave the premises, as noted on signs posted at gate entrances.

• The Brewers don’t allow “tube chip cans” in the stadium. However, at Coors Field, “potato chip or nut cardboard cans with metal tops or bottoms” are specifically permitted.

• Costumes are not allowed at Wrigley Field

• The Yankees don’t allow laptops in the stadium.

• Phillies banner/sign restrictions are hilarious…

a. Recognizing that Citizens Bank Park is a baseball ballpark and not a forum for public discussion, messages on banners and signs may relate solely to one or more of the following subjects, without any unrelated collateral content whatsoever: (i) the game and institution of major league baseball; (ii) a major league baseball team; (iii) the on-field activities and performance of a major league baseball player, coach or manager; (iv) the acts or omissions of the management and other non-player employees of a major league baseball organization, but only to the extent that such acts or omissions may relate to or affect its team’s on- field activities and performance; (v) the entity broadcasting a baseball game played at the ballpark and the acts or omissions of the announcers in doing so; and (vi) fans’ birthday, engagement, wedding, anniversary, get well, welcome home, congratulations or like messages.

b. Additionally, banners and signs may not bear a message that (i) is slanderous, (ii) is obscene, vulgar or indecent and inappropriate for viewing by children, (iii) contains “fighting words” likely to provoke a breach of the peace, (iv) contains commercial advertising or commercial product or service identification, or (v) contains derogatory matter relating to race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, national origin, ancestry, physical handicap, marital status, or age.

Fighting words? Ha!

• Also, the Phillies ballgirls have their own Web site and blog.

• When a Pirate hits a home run at PNC Park, fans have the option to return the ball to an usher in exchange for an autographed baseball (mailed to them) signed by the Pirate that hit the home run.

• The Pirates laid out the guidelines for in-game replays:

Major League Baseball rules the following may not be shown: pitched balls not put into play (called balls and strikes), force plays at second base, “bean” balls and fights/arguments. Close plays may be shown once and only at regular speed.

• I’ll take “Things I Never Would Have Guessed” for $1,000, Alex.

Ebbets Field was an influence for Tropicana Field. The ballpark’s grand, eight-story-high rotunda entrance is designed from the very blueprints used for the rotunda at Ebbets Field, built in 1913.

Open 10/4 playoff discussion thread

October 4, 2008 · Filed Under General baseball · 36 Comments 

Random questions I’ve had while watching the playoffs…

• How many people at the Rays’ game could name five Rays players before this season?

• Do the Brewers weigh more than any other team?

• How many pieces of gum does Francona go through per game?

• Is that Scott Boras right behind home plate at the Angels’ games?

• Why does Brett Myers have better plate discipline than most of our hitters?

• How much would you pay to show Frank Caliendo your impression of Chuck Liddell?

• Does Craig Sager own a mirror?

• What are the Cubs going to blame it on this time?


Games today:

Phillies @ Brewers (Moyer vs. Bush) 3:30 p.m.

Cubs @ Dodgers (Harden vs. Kuroda) 7:00 p.m.

Go to town…

Mid-season? Really?

August 26, 2008 · Filed Under General baseball · 34 Comments 

As expected, MLB today announced it will begin using instant replay for “boundary calls”–basically, wether or not home runs were fair or foul, interfered with, or went over the wall at all. The unexpected part is that the new system begins… Thursday. (Wire story here, more detailed story here)

Not during spring training, not to be tested during the Arizona Fall League, not put in place over the All-Star break… Thursday. Right in the middle of the season. It’s unclear to me from these stories how much testing has taken place. I hope it’s a least a little bit, because starting something like this on a random day in the middle of the season seems, well, like something only MLB would do.

The new M’s caps

July 5, 2008 · Filed Under General baseball · 44 Comments 

You may have been saying to yourself “I’d love to go out wearing my Mariners cap, but it’s just not embarrassing enough to wear the logo of one the worst, most ineptly-run franchises in baseball, where the worst hitter in the game gets to DH and bat fourth every game. What if there were something uglier? Something that ties the team into a gaudy commercialize patriotism. Like… the baseball equivalent of a Lee Greenwood song.”

I know I have. If so, our wish has been answered!

Did you just throw up? A little, maybe? Because I can show it to you again.

Plus, it’s not just a craven attempt to exploit fans into buying a new cap for $35. Oh no:

A portion of proceeds from all caps sales will go to the Welcome Back Veterans fund

You might wonder what portion that is, exactly.

Newspaper Tour Guide: And each paper contains a certain percentage of recycled paper.
Lisa: What percentage is that?
Newspaper Tour Guide: Zero. Zero is a percent, isn’t it?

Sorry, wrong quote.

It played out with Uni Watch like so:

MLB PR czar Rich Levin glared at me like I’d just hocked a loogie in his cappuccino or something. “The answer is that that hasn’t been determined yet,” he growled. “But this is a charity initiative — it isn’t about generating revenue.”

“I’m not suggesting otherwise,” I responded. “But there’s a certain level of cynicism out there among some fans, so I was giving you a chance to clarify…”

“We reject that,” he snapped. “We reject the cynicism.”

Uni Watch on the caps
Uni Watch at the press conference

I don’t have a lot to add to that Uni Watch post: these kind of things really annoy me.

But what’s absolutely amazing about this is the raw, unmitigated cynicism of MLB, that they’d launch patriotic themed hats ostensibly to benefit a worthy veterans charity and be totally unprepared to tell anyone what the participation is. I’ve got a pretty dim view of humanity and this shocked me. How could you do this? How do you go lower than this? Are the caps ugly because the program’s ugly? Is this branding a warning by someone on the inside, trying to keep us from falling prey to this program?

I hope. Anyway, I’d humbly suggest if you’re interested in supporting the cause, just go to and donate directly. They’ll get almost 100% of the proceeds from that action.

Pitcher fastballs peak at 29, decline quickly

May 27, 2008 · Filed Under General baseball · 44 Comments 

The greatest thing for me as a fan the last few years is the explosion of great data researchers can use, from play-by-play information that helped build better defensive measures to the amazing stuff you can get out of MLB’s Pitch f/x system.

Like this, “Preliminary aging curve for fastball speed” by Josh Kalk. It’s early, yes, and Kalk discusses some potential limitations of the data, but go look at that. That’s the kind of data people — any of us — can use to figure stuff out.

It appears that until pitchers reach 28 or 29, they increase the speed on their fastball by about 1.5 mph. After 29, there is a rather sharp decline in fastball speed.

During the next five years, pitchers lose just over four mph.

No one ever knew this before this article. You had to run a team and be willing to devote ridiculous resources to get this, or be an outsider willing to invest several times more than that.

Be excited.

Thanks to Alex, whose email bumped this up the reading queue

Evaluating Chemistry

May 19, 2008 · Filed Under General baseball · 61 Comments 

Chemistry is not an apt word choice
I’m using it here because it’s the commonly cited term. But in real world chemistry, you look at what things are made of, how they act, and the changes that happen when you mix things. Given elements a, b, and c in specific proportions, you can predict what will happen. The concept of chemistry in baseball falls short compared to its scientific namesake in every way:
– We can’t know what players are made of
– We can’t know what teams are made of
– We can’t predict how players, or teams, will act
– We can’t predict what will happen with the addition or subtraction of any player to a team

Definitions of chemistry
There are generally two kinds of team chemistry. There’s good chemistry, where a team works well together and makes everyone better, and there’s bad chemistry, where players don’t like each other, characterized by factions in the clubhouse.

But then there’s good-bad chemistry, where players hate each other so much they work really hard to show the other players up, and the end result is they all work their ass off, glare at each other a lot, and win a ton of games.

And bad-good chemistry which is when everyone’s friendly and comfortable and doesn’t try hard enough to win, and spends their time hanging out together instead of working out, and they joke around instead of concentrating in drills.

There’s young team optimism chemistry, where a rebuilding franchise is learning the game, improving, working well together, keeping their head up even through the losses. They may not know they’re not supposed to win so much.

Then again, they might not know how to win. That happens, too.

And there’s winning team chemistry, where they expect to compete each day and win a championship.

And losing team chemsitry, where they’ve all given up and don’t really try.

Team chemistry is observed changing in-season, too. A team on a losing streak will find something wrong with whatever chemistry they had working up to that point. If they’re optimistic and have faith, they’re not realistic or working harder. If they’re working harder and depressed, they’ve lost faith and are flailing about. If they stick together, they’ll be ignoring to the problems they need to confront. If they admit that one part of the team or one player is struggling, they’ll be turning on each other.
If they start winning, whatever they were doing during the losing streak was key.

Quantifying and Predicting Team Chemistry
Until you can predict before a season starts which teams will have good or bad chemistry – from past seasons, knowledge of the players, even watching them through spring training – then what exactly can chemistry be? If it’s how a team came together, or fell apart, something you can only see and use in an after-the-fact explanation, then it’s a story, not an effect. And moreover, as it’s usually applied, as an explanation of how teams that did surprisingly well succeeded and how unexpectedly bad teams failed, it’s an argument that the chemistry doesn’t cause wins or losses but is itself caused by winning and losing. This makes sense – winning makes competitive people happy, and losing brings out the worst in them. It even fits with the changing characterizations of team’s in-season chemistry.

Or let’s not even say that you need to predict which teams will have good or bad chemistry at the start of the season. Let them play for half the year. If you could at mid-season determine which teams playing badly to that point had maintained a good clubhouse attitude, and so would have a great second half, the evaluation of team chemistry might be useful and significant. But even here, given a half-season of data, prediction fails. We’re forced to wait until the season’s end to find out why one sub-.500 team went 55-35 in the second half to make a run while the other continued to struggle, unnoticed. That first team will then have had good chemistry, while the latter did not.

This is true even in the short term. Events are used to explain a team’s fortunes while similar events that don’t produce the same results are ignored. If a player is arrested for drunk driving and the team goes into a three-game losing streak, the distraction will inevitably be used to account for the losses. If it doesn’t, the team’s chemistry saved it. If they win three games, the negative attention brought the team together. But if you can’t predict that a player’s arrest will have an effect, then how much can you know about a team’s chemistry?

If chemistry can’t provide any additional predictive information on which team will win a game, or a series, all the way up to a season, even if you’re aware of what kind of chemistry and how strong it is, then what use is it to know?

One of the strongest anecdotal arguments in favor of chemistry is the frequent testimony of managers, players, and people around championship teams that there was something special about that team. That there were players willing to “go the extra mile” or “do whatever it took” and “stay focused” and so on, and that made all the difference.

This doesn’t exclude the after-the-fact attribution, that chemistry’s an explanation for winning or losing as much as it might be a cause. Looking back at a team that won it all for reasons why it succeeded, of course the positive attitude of bench players will seem to have contributed.

But you can take teams with similar attitudes in spring training, or early in the season, and see that their results vary greatly when they play the games. Teams with enthusiastic veteran benches don’t all perform three games better than expected. Teams with self-aggrandizing defensively limited corner infielders don’t all perform four games worse.

If you took a survey of every major league team going into a season for entirely intangible qualities, like satisfaction with teammates, music in clubhouse y/n, volume of music in decibels, difference in clubhouse noise levels post-win and post-loss, number of clubhouse leaders and number of clubhouse jokers, and its value in predicting regular-season records would approach zero – and the only factors that would matter at all would be things like “veteran presence” or “championship experience” because teams that bring in high-profile free agents are disproportionately competitive.

The counter to this is that while you can know on a general level what a team’s chemistry is like, without knowing the actual, detailed interactions between teammates, you don’t know the real picture and therefore any survey like that is meaningless. Or that the guy thought to be a leader turned out to be a goofball (which, again, is a after-the-fact justification).

Compare the qualifications and components of chemistry though to any other metric, and we quickly see that chemistry’s effects, if they exist, are pretty limited.
– Is it better to have an offense that walks more, or that plays louder music after wins?
– Is it better to have a pitching staff that strikes out more hitters, or a team that includes two clubhouse leaders and at least one clubhouse jokester?
– Is it better to have a defense that makes more outs on balls put into play, or one that goes out to dinner together after games?

Now of course, those aren’t the choices you make: you can have a walk-happy offense score more runs and all dance around to salsa music after wins. But in a more general sense, teams do make these choices: when teams weigh a player who can contribute X and could be replaced by a cardboard cutout for interviews against one who offers 75% of that contribution but comes with a reputation as a hard worker and good teammate, this is the choice they make, over and over.

It doesn’t matter what level you break it down to – when you compare any frequently-cited thing-that-is-good-for-chemistry to a reasonably quantifiable quality of a team, you’ll find that teams that succeed at the thing we know and can measure do better, while teams with two identified leaders don’t do better than teams with one.

The argument then is that the definition of leader, or whatever the chemistry component is, is too vague, and hard to see. The press covering one team might identify a leader who isn’t as strong as the leader on another, for instance. If that’s the case, though, and it’s so difficult to establish standards for who’s a leader and who’s not, if an objective observer can’t come in and determine whether someone’s contributing or not, and someone who observes the team daily and spends much of their working hours in direct contact with them can’t either, then how obvious and significant can that leadership be?

And even in a case where everyone agrees that a particular player is a colossal jerk and difficult to be on the same team with (Barry Bonds, say) we still can’t determine an effect. As a group, players who join the team from no-jerk teams don’t perform worse, and players leaving the team with the jerk don’t perform better.

This is a stark contrast to other, measurable effects. We can determine the level of play in a minor league by tracing the performances of players moving up and down and sideways to other leagues of the same classification. We can track the different talent levels in divisions and leagues by how players perform, and project how a player going from the NL West will perform in the AL East. We can make good guesses at how a pitcher’s line will change moving from team to team based on the rough tools we have for measuring defense, but there’s no way anyone’s been able to measure what moving from team-with-bad-attitude to team-with-good-attitude might do.

And if we can’t see an effect in a case where everyone agrees that one player’s a bad influence, and as bad an influence as can be, where we can’t predict how players joining that team will suffer (or if they’ll suffer at all) how can we ever measure the effect?

Moreover, you can’t predict what a player or several players will contribute
Teams frequently consider a player’s reputation in the clubhouse or their playoff experience as factors in who to try and trade for and sign in the off-season or even during a pennant drive. But there’s no guarantee that adding these players will help at all. The players come over and turn out to be jerks, or ineffective players. How they’re perceived might change:
– A player who is vocal and tries to get other players to work harder will be a leader on one team and an annoying jerk on another, and sometimes on the same team from year to year.
– A player who is quiet and works his ass off will be cited as leading by example and an inspiration and then selfish and a failure for not being more vocal.

There’s no better example of this than the 2004 Mariners. The organization believed that they needed more veteran leadership and brought in Scott Spiezio, known as a huge work-ethic and makeup guy, to replace Jeff Cirillo, who had a terrible time here and was fingered as a clubhouse problem. They signed Rich Aurilia, also a good clubhouse guy with playoff experience. Ron Villone and Mike Myers for veteran left-handedness in the pen. Raul Ibanez signed as a free agent from Kansas City where he had a great reputation as a clubhouse presence and community leader. Eddie Guardado had a huge reputation as a great teammate and professional who kept everyone loose.

And they already had Dan Wilson, a clubhouse good guy, and Mark McLemore, a long-time veteran leader, a scrappy local boy with dirt on his uniform in Willie Bloomquist, and the steady presence of Edgar Martinez. They dumped Carlos Guillen, who the organization felt was a bad influence on other players.

It was a club overflowing with chemistry. If ever there was a team specifically constructed to maximize its raw chemistry and be better in total than on paper, it was the 2004 Mariners.

It went 63-99.

If a team can make that many moves to bring in great chemistry and leadership guys – and all of those moves were considered great clubhouse moves at the time – and fail on the field so spectacularly, does it make sense to consider chemisty as a significant factor in building a team?.

Baseball is not an office
Many people argue that a pleasant work environment makes people perform better, and I agree. I’ve been more productive when I worked with people I liked and wanted to do well for. But this is not the same at all. Baseball is largely a series of solitary events, unlike most other team sports.
My job is largely social, depending on my ability to communicate with other people, collaborate, and sometimes I go off and do something like write a design or research something by myself. A huge part of my job relies on having good relationships with people I work with.

When a hitter’s up at the plate, their ability to hit the ball doesn’t depend on their relationship with any other player, even if that other player is running from first to second at the time. Most fielding plays require minimal interaction, and most of that is “stand at first so I can throw it at you.” There’s very little room for a player to get in another’s way, and certainly not in the way you see in basketball, where a point guard could effectively keep the ball out of another player’s hands if he wanted.

Pitchers and catchers need to communicate well, but catchers who can’t get along with their pitchers to the point that it drags the pitcher down wash out very quickly and are moved to other positions if they can hit. Even catchers known as jerks are able to work with their staff effectively.

Why chemistry might not matter to the performance of major league players
This is a lot like one of the arguments against the existence of the clutch hitter (someone who consistently performs better than expected in critical situations): if a player’s performance is dramatically affected by his teammates, or if he does things that affect the performance of his teammates, he doesn’t make it to the major leagues.

Many players have little choice in their teammates through their career until they become free agents. Take a domestic player. They may have some sway in which high school they attend, but they can’t pick their teammates. They can choose their college, if they attend, but again, they’ll know very little about what it’s like to play a season with them until it happens. Even word-of-mouth on last year’s team can’t identify recruits in the same recruiting class as the player. Then once they enter a major league system, they’re assigned to teams at the team’s wish for another six, seven years.

If a player can’t stand players from Puerto Rico, and they pout and don’t perform well if they have to play with them, they’ll be tossed out of the organization quickly. Same thing if they stink in day games because they’re too hungover every morning, or if they get into fights with teammates when they go 0-for in a game. The more talented they are, the more a team might try to get them help before they discard them, but discard them they will. Even players like Milton Bradley, who got into fights with umpires, manage to be decent teammates. Weird is okay, levels of annoyingness are okay, and inflated egos are okay – as long as they don’t result in serious disruptions to the team that affect performances.

Players are also evaluated and coached on their ability to take losses well, to not get too arrogant over wins, and to not be rattled after making a fielding error. Just as a player who makes one error and cracks is unlikely to rise to the major leagues, a player who mentally checks out if their A-ball team is 10 games out of the A-ball division race isn’t going to get promoted, if only because their season performance won’t merit it.

Chemistry doesn’t matter much to the career choices of major league players
One argument for chemistry’s effects is that while it might not affect a team’s performance or a player’s performance, it affects what players are willing to sign with that team, and for how much.

This is pretty clearly not true.

Players sign with competitive clubs with supposedly bad chemistry.

Players sign with struggling clubs with bad chemistry.

They also sign with clubs with supposedly good chemistry.

In almost all cases, they sign with the team that offer them the most. The majority of their equation is the money, but for many players the team’s proximity to their home or their families is important, or their familiarity with a team’s coaching staff.

While players will say that a team’s makeup played a part in their choice, it never results in a significant discount in the money they take, and certainly not in the way we see players taking less to play for the hometown team.

Take, for instance, the Giants. The Giants have featured Barry Bonds since 1994. Bonds is often described in the media as a clubhouse cancer, a difficult teammate, and increasingly since 2000, been one of the central figures in baseball’s steroid controversies.

But the Giants were able to pursue and sign the players they wanted. Since the steroid circus really started, J.T. Snow signed there in 2003, and most prominently, they landed Barry Zito. Now, sure, you can go through the signings and say, for instance, that Zito wanted to play in the Bay, so the Giants had an advantage – but that concedes that “playing in the Bay + the contract offered – playing with Bonds” was better for him than “playing in New York + contract offered + not playing with Bonds”.

The cost of “playing with Bonds” was not insurmountable.

Taking the example of Zito again, it doesn’t appear to have even been valued that highly, even.
I concede though that this is one of the stronger arguments. There are teams like the Cardinals who managed through a long history of success, a supportive fan base, and good management to make themselves an attractive destination for players even though in the Cardinals’ case they didn’t have the best facilities at the stadium. Players don’t mind being traded there, which means that they’re less frequently listed in limited no-trade clauses, and in turn the Cardinals don’t have to buy out a player’s reluctance. Free agents make a point to listen to the Cardinals’ contract offers. That’s an advantage that helps the team, if in subtle ways.

But this is not the effect that chemistry is commonly held to have: that a team’s chemistry directly affects the way they play and their success on the field.

And if a team’s chemistry had a significant effect on a player’s performance and players knew that, the premium to sign free agents would be extremely high, because they would know that their stats would be taking a huge hit, making them less marketable.

Chemistry doesn’t matter enough to see
No one’s going to argue that working environment could have an effect, and that happy teams could perform better than unhappy ones. But the effect clearly isn’t huge, or we’d be able to see it and talk about what it does. You’d see that a player with leadership gets better performances out of his teammates. We don’t see that. You’d see players joining a team with good chemistry improving from where they were, and we don’t see that. Managers who excel at running the clubhouse would take those effects with them as they changed teams. And on, and on, and on. We don’t see these things: every hypothesis I’ve seen for how we might measure the effects of chemistry on player or team performance have come up with “there’s no evidence”.

The very best thing we can say is that chemistry, if it exists in the form we’re arguing about — the team’s fortunes are affected by the composition of its parts – has such a small effect that it’s lost in other, larger, more measurable events.

I’ve had this argument over and over, and it always runs like this:

“You’re discounting chemistry because you can’t see it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.”

“Yes. But it does mean that it can’t be that large, because then we’d see it.”

“Just because you can’t measure it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”

“Yes. But it does mean that it can’t be that large, because then we’d be able to measure it.”

(and so on, forever)

I’ll borrow an analogy from Carl Sagan.

I have a dragon in my backyard.

You can’t see it because it’s invisible.

You can’t detect it using infrared sensors or anything else because it’s magic.

Its wings doesn’t cause the grass to flatten because it’s super-small.

You can’t feel the flames of its breath because it’s so tiny the heat dissipates harmlessly.

It’s biting you right now but you can’t feel the microscopic teeth.

Do I have a dragon in my backyard or not? Or should I worry that my neighbor’s dumping toxic waste over the fence? Team chemistry, as it’s often argued by talking heads on television, is the most important thing for a winning team to have. But you can’t measure it, you don’t know which teams have it, you can’t predict which players create it, or which combination of players will result in good or bad (or good-bad or bad-good) chemistry, and at no point can you use what knowledge you have of a team’s makeup to make useful predictions.

And yet this is exactly the kind of choice that teams make: they don’t evaluate defense well, so they have a vague idea that all those doubles dropping around their left fielder might cost them runs, but they worry about the effect moving him to DH might have on the team’s makeup, so they do nothing.

That’s a choice between a huge, measurable thing and an intangible no one can quantify, which if it has any effect is too small to be measured, predicted, or otherwise dealt with.

Or to put this another way: the things we know are out there and make a huge difference in the game are so much more massively important, and chemistry such a slippery, unpredictable monster with such a small effect that it’s silly to expend energy on it until you’ve done everything you can with the things you know are out there and can be controlled.

What’s next?
If you believe in the effect of chemistry, here’s the question I’d put to you: how important do you think it is, and how would you go about proving its existence? If you can prove that team chemistry is significant, you’ll have made one of the most interesting breakthroughs in baseball research we’ve ever seen.

Otherwise, we should be able to all agree that whether or not we think team chemistry exists in the most conventional sense, as an intangible force generated by the personnel put together which acts on a team, pushing their performances one way or another, that while it might make an interesting storyline, it’s not nearly as important to a team’s fortunes as whether or not they can hit, pitch, and field.

Thanks to Dave for feedback on an early draft

Fielding statistics and defense

May 7, 2008 · Filed Under General baseball · 28 Comments 

I’ve been thinking about defense with the team’s recent woes. Dave wrote a large article on evaluating defense a while back that stands up nicely, and I came across an interesting post randomly that I thought I’d pass along: “Comparison of Fielding Statistics” which compares 2006 data from six different stats and comes to some interesting conclusions about their utility.

I have some quibbles with the piece’s logic in places, specifically the comparison of stat “features” leading to

So, based on that table, I would have to say that UZR and PMR have the best methodologies, with a nod to the Fans data because they can provide such unique insights into player skill.

The problem is that this doesn’t at all evaluate methodologies. If I came up with a defensive metric called Random Runs that claimed to be built on hit-location data, zones, ball type, batter handedness, ballpark-adjusted, and player skill types, and I did all of those things horribly, that’s not a better system than something that does fewer things the right way, even though you’d check off those boxes.

The particularly interesting thing is the easy-to-scan graphs of system-to-system results. It’s interesting to see that in the 2006 data, the correlation is both highly significant and not anywhere near as good as you see from offensive contribution measures.

It all goes to reinforce something I’ve been saying for years — recognize that defensive tools are still pretty rough, but looking at a couple of them you’ll be able to get a pretty good idea of how good a particular player is with the glove.

22 innings of baseball goodness

April 18, 2008 · Filed Under General baseball · 25 Comments 

Padres-Rockies last night was pretty great.

Here’s my favorite part of the AP recap:

Manager Clint Hurdle noticed that his players were a little tight.

“This was a good game to get outside yourself,” Hurdle said. “About the 16th inning, I said, ‘Hey boys, no matter what’s in front of us, there’s a world of people out there who’ve got harder rows to hoe than we do. No matter what happens the rest of the night, have some fun with this thing.’ ”

His players listened. It just took them six more innings to score a run.

I’m not sure if that’s sarcasm or not, but it sure seems like it. Six more innings for the speech to get a result? Listening would be joking around followed by a HR the next at-bat.

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