World Famous StatSpeak Roundtable: September 24
September 24, 2008 8 Comments
Roundtable, roundtable, where are you now? Why, you’ve found Derek Carty of the fantasy section of The Hardball Times and RotoWorld. And on the happiest day of the year: the day on which the New York Yankees are eliminated! This week, Derek joins the usual four-man rotation for a look at the recent end of an era in New York stadia, the Next Generation of Sabermetrics, playoff matchups, and fun things to do with Pitch F/X.
Question #1: While the PITCHf/x system is really starting to take hold of the baseball community, a system like this has nearly unlimited potential and surely hasn’t been put to its full use yet. Movement and speed have become rather commonplace now, but what is one important area that PITCHf/x could look at that hasn’t been done yet?
Derek Carty: We see movement and speed graphs and figures everywhere now, but there is more to pitching than these two things. The whole mental side of pitching has been largely untouched, though it can play a large role in pitcher success. Location is a facet of pitching that is widely recognized as important and commonly talked about during television broadcasts, yet it has received little attention in the way of PITCHf/x. I penned a recent article about curveballs (and have plans for forthcoming articles), and my colleague John Walsh looked at fastball location at the beginning of the season. Aside from that, though, I’ve yet to really see it looked at much.
Perhaps the most interesting thing that is now possible to examine is the batter/pitcher dynamic and how game theory plays into it. Are there any pitchers or batters who are especially good at it? There are a ton of factors that go into this, likely making it necessary to look at it at the micro level, but it would be incredibly interesting.
Brian Cartwright: I don’t know if there’s any more physical info the system can give us on the pitches, but there’s still lots of ways to analyze the data we might have not thought of yet. For ages teams have charted pitches on paper. Pfx does an electronic version. Both P.C. and Derek have written articles on plate discipline for hitters, and I admit I’m still working to wrap my head around some of the math (and upset that Access doesn’t have the necessary function that Excel does). What I am picturing is looking at plate discipline not just by balls and strikes, or in zone and out of zone, but also by what we can see that each batter can and cannot hit. Is he aggressive on pitches he has shown he can hit well? Can he lay off the slider below the knees? A heat chart at different counts for each batter can graphically show the pitcher the best and worst pitches to throw, which then leads into pitch sequencing…
Colin Wyers: I think the next big step for Pitch F/X research is probably to make some testable predictions using the data. It seems obvious to say that given more data about a pitcher we should be able to improve our ability to project future performance, but there’s quite a lot of labor involved between saying it and doing it. I’m not (only) talking about projections like Marcels and PECOTA – when a pitcher drops his release point, what can we conclude about his performance going forward? If his velocity is off in one start, how likely is it to carry over? There’s a lot of things there that haven’t really been quantified yet, at least not in a systemic way (that I’m aware of).
Eric Seidman: I enjoy using the Pitch F/X data to investigate questions that we have been or may be curious about. For instance, I wrote a couple of articles at Prospectus about what happens to pitchers when they throw a ton of pitches in the first inning, separating them by average fastball velocity. I am a huge fan of John Walsh’s article on whether or not an 89 mph fastball is more effective than a 95 mph fastball. The data is also great at confirming the generally accepted principles or beliefs, such as pitchers with more vertical movement surrender more flyballs, but I feel like we will need 5-10 years before we can really do a whole heck of a lot with the dataset.
Pizza Cutter: Actually, this could be a pretty easy stat to run and maybe someone’s already done it. We can identify which pitches are begging to be hit for home runs (so that hanging curveball). Surely, we could start classifying the “mistake zones” on pitches and ask which pitchers have the highest/lowest mistake percentage. Perhaps that could even become a way to find out who’s gotten lucky and who hasn’t. It’s not just location either (although that’ll be important.) A 97 mph fastball down the middle is a better pitch than a 87 mph fastball down the middle.
Question #2: With two new stadiums opening next year in New York, your thoughts on how much public tax dollars should be used for construction and infrastructure.
Derek Carty: I’m definitely the wrong person to ask about this, well removed from my fantasy baseball comfort zone. I’m not even sure how I would begin to answer. I suppose you’d want to find out how much money the city expects to earn from tourism related to the two teams above and beyond what they already were gaining with the current stadiums. How you’d arrive at that number, I have no idea. How you’d account for the fact that the stadiums will be generating tourism revenue for an indefinite number of years to come, again, I have no idea.
Brian Cartwright: Generally I have a bias against government spending, but there are cases where if it was left strictly to private financing, the deal probably won’t get done. I was proud that Jack Kent Cooke had the resources to build his own stadium, then a little ticked off that as soon as he died the new owners renamed the field. THT is reporting about challenges to the legality of bonds issued for the Yankees new stadium, on the question of who is benefited by the public spending. Some argue that bringing fans into the city helps other local businesses and the sales tax coffers. There’s a civic pride and happiness factor in having a team, but how much is that worth? How much should taxpayers in one county or city have to pay to make baseball fans 70 miles away happy?
Colin Wyers: There’s obviously plenty of money to be had from owning a baseball team. A baseball stadium isn’t something like a space exploration program that’s too expensive to be financed by private citizenry. And let’s be frank – this isn’t a situation where the Yankees can realistically go, “Okay, we’ll take our business on down to Charlotte – they’ll build us a stadium.” The Yankees have a heck of a lot more to lose moving out of New York than New York has to lose by the Yankees moving out. It strikes me as being a rather foolish move on its face.
But if New York taxpayers want to subsidize Hank Steinbrenner’s mouth, I won’t complain too much. That man needs his own 24-hour cable network.
Eric Seidman: If I remember correctly, new stadiums are generally break-even in terms of cost and revenue but the question is essentially asking how much money is the stadium worth to the people paying for it. Personally, it seems like it would be very worth it to pay taxes to help build a new stadium if the new stadium is realistically merited. For instance, Citizen’s Bank Park is in its fourth year. It would not make sense for the Phillies to get a new ballpark but the situations in New York make sense since sports are such a large part of the culture.
Pizza Cutter: In general, I don’t get too worked up about political issues, and this really comes down to a politics. A baseball team (or any other team) is something that gives a city/town/state a common point of reference and builds a sense of community and culture. (Consider, you can ask anyone in the city “How about them Dodgers?” and start a conversation.) Is that the government’s job to do that? If I recall correctly, Baseball Between the Numbers found that a new stadium was at best a break-even proposition, so you can’t really make an economic argument. The argument you would have to make is that it’s worth the tax money for a cultural touch-stone. I personally think it’s worth it.
Question #3: Early on, the sabermetric pioneers like Bill James and Pete Palmer fought to get acceptance for their ideas against the entrenched concepts like batting average and RBIs. (And have had much, but not total, success.) Are their ideas – such as Runs Created and OPS - now becoming entrenched, crowding out newer ideas like BaseRuns and wOBA?
Derek Carty: I don’t know if they’re quite entrenched yet (especially if you’re talking in relation to BA and RBI), but I do think they’re getting there, OPS especially. You’ll even hear OPS mentioned among the mainstream media on occasion. While we really shouldn’t be expecting to see the mainstream media racing to convert to BaseRuns or wOBA, what is more concerning is that even the more sabermetrically minded fans seem to prefer stats like Runs Created and OPS.
I think this has a lot to do with publicity. While BaseRuns and wOBA have the stronger methodology, they haven’t received nearly as much attention as some other stats, even by the leading sabermetric and stat websites. Nearly every stat site has OPS, even places like ESPN. FanGraphs has OPS and Runs Created but not BaseRuns or wOBA. THT is just now converting to BaseRuns, and it isn’t listed in their stats section yet. I don’t believe BP shows any of these stats besides OPS. Tom Tango created wOBA, and I know that his website and the Book Blog can be intimidating to a lot of fans, likely the reason wOBA is a relative unknown. The only place that I’m aware of that lists wOBA is StatCorner, brand new to the scene and still in its beta phase.
How are some of the more casual sabermetrically inclined fans supposed to support these stats if they aren’t aware of them and if they don’t have easy access to them?
Brian Cartwright: I think that any of these have a very slow process of being absorbed into the mainstream. Although the Internet has given a great amount of access to new thinking, I believe most fans still get most of their exposure to stats from the announcers on radio and television. Even though OPS is getting pretty ubiquitous on the Internet, I can’t recall the last time I’ve heard it mentioned on the air. And yes, BaseRuns and wOBA are in line behind OPS.
Colin Wyers: I’ll admit to being a mix between sad and annoyed when I read Fire Joe Morgan (and I love Fire Joe Morgan) and they have a piece where they base their arguements on nothing more than OPS+ and FRAA, with a little VORP thrown in. Really? We have a civilization so advanced that we can deconstruct the human genome and crack the atom in twain, but we can’t even provide our sitcom writers with run estimators that properly value the walk?
But most of the saberfriendly world outside of the hardcore analytic community (fans, writers, etc.) is still using concepts that have been around since the 70′s and 80′s – it really hasn’t progressed much beyond The Hidden Game of Baseball and the Abstracts. It’s OPS and Runs Created. THT’s adopting of BaseRuns – and it’s a slow process for them, for understandable reasons – is really heartening.
Eric Seidman: The fact that Peter Gammons’ usage of OPS is just starting to bring in some mainstream analysts to use that stat tells me that it is nowhere near entrenched, which means that wOBA is even further from being grasped or entrenched. The biggest problem I have found with several stats, from running tests with people, is that the unknown scales prevent them from using or enjoying what the metrics offer. Honestly, most fans do not even know what constitutes a great or average OBP, let alone wOBA. In the Internet world of statistical analysis, I don’t believe anything can ever be truly entrenched as there will always be upgrades, but the key seems to be exposure. I’ve always said that if MLB.com were to include wOBA, it would have the capability to garner more mainstream acceptance. A lot of these stats are not scary and many fans easily grasp how to calculate them and what they tell us, but since it isn’t on many websites they frequent, they figure the numbers aren’t “worthy” of their usage.
Pizza Cutter: Funny how life goes in cycles like that. I’ve said many times before that I would be happy if OBP and OPS were that entrenched in mainstream baseball culture. But, it’s a slow process to build that following. OPS is now “old” enough that people have become familiar with it. Hopefully in another ten years, the rest of mainstream baseball culture will have caught up with the next wave and we’ll be complaining about a lack of acceptance of stats that are even better!
Question #4: Yankee Stadium is no more. Are we romanticizing for nostalgia’s sake or good riddance you dump!
Derek Carty: As a Mets fan, I care more about Shea Stadium than I do Yankee Stadium, although I understand why Yankee is getting so much more attention. The Yankees have been around much longer than the Mets, have had some of the all-time greats play there, and have been more successful overall.
Personally, you won’t hear any romanticizing from me, but I won’t condemn anyone who is nostalgic.
Brian Cartwright: I get romantic. I will admit that PNC Park is a vastly better place to watch baseball than Three Rivers Stadium, but I also wonder why it takes hundreds of millions of dollars to replace a building that’s only 30 or 35 years old. I’ve only driven by Yankee Stadium, but I will miss it. The Vet, I don’t miss that, but then of course I hate the Phillies.
Colin Wyers: Never been to Yankee Stadium. Not really fond of the Yankees. Don’t watch very many AL games. Not really moved to care.
Try to take Wrigley Field and I’ll be ready for the civil disobedience, though.
Eric Seidman: I’ll take Hootie and the Blowfish over Linkin Park, and Seven Mary Three’s “Cumbersome” over anything from Boys Like Girls. It has nothing to do with the ideals of the bands or anything like that, or even that the music is that much better, but it is what I grew up with, and so I feel a personal connection to them. It is human nature to be nostalgic like this and I cannot fault anyone for feeling this way with regards to Yankee Stadium. Was it a bit much for ESPN to spend an entire day there? Sure, but as long as it kept Dan LeBatard and Jay Mariotti off the airwaves, I’m all for it!
Pizza Cutter: Oh why not a little bit of nostalgia? Consider for a moment the thoughts that went through your head when the parents of one of your old buddies sold their house. The nostalgia for The House that Ruth Built is part of a very basic human need for what’s known as super-structure. Yankee Stadium unites several generations of Yankee fans, and I suppose even they have feelings. Even if one fan dies or worse moves to Scranton, Yankee Stadium is still there. Except now that it won’t be. Yes, the stadium itself isn’t, strictly speaking, efficient any more. But, there’s more to life than just cold efficiency.
Question #5: Boston and Tampa Bay are now just fighting over who will win the division and play Chicago and who will be the Wild Card and play Anaheim. If you were Boston or Tampa Bay, which team would you like to play? If you were Chicago or Los Angeles/Anaheim/California, which would you be hoping to come your way?
Derek Carty: Good question, and not an easy one to answer. Billy Beane is now famous for calling the playoff a crapshoot, and I’ve seen at least a couple studies pretty much agreeing with him. Baseball Prospectus seems to disagree, though, with their “Secret Sauce” saying that strong defense, a strong closer, and a high strikeout pitching staff are the most important factors for post-season success (there was actually an article at the Fantasy Baseball Generals yesterday talking about this). For argument’s sake, I’ll use those criteria instead of saying that it really doesn’t matter.
As Boston or Tampa, I’d rather see the White Sox. The Sox and Angels are pretty close with Ks, and while K-Rod is obviously overrated, he is still a better pitcher than Bobby Jenks. LA is also better defensively, looking at basically any metric you want.
If I were Chicago or Anaheim, as much as I love the Rays (especially since I told all of my friends who are Yankees fans at the beginning of the year that the Rays would keep them out of the playoffs), Boston is the better team. Papelbon is fantastic, and they’re 7th in baseball in strikeouts compared to Tampa Bay’s 12th (plus Jon Lester’s K rate didn’t jump until the second-half of the year). BP’s EQK9 puts Boston as #1 in baseball, even more favorable. An argument could be made for TB’s defense (THT’s RZR and OOZ combination portrays them in the more favorable light), but I still think Boston’s the better team.
Brian Cartwright: Despite probably being the Wild Card, Boston could be the team to look out for in a short series. With the built in off days, the quality of the top two or three starting pitchers has a much larger influence, along with a quality closer. The Red Sox top three of Lester, Matsuzaka and Beckett, plus Papelbon in the pen, ranks as good or better than the other three teams, plus the Red Sox are the 2nd best scoring team in the league while playing in one of the better pitchers parks. As much of a story that Tampa Bay has been this season, by these same measures they are probably the fourth best playoff team.
Colin Wyers: The thing is, you rarely face a truly bad team in the playoffs. Oh, sure, every once in a while you have a team like the Cardinals in ’06, but they weren’t a truly bad team, just a mediocre one – even if their World Series victory was at least somewhat unearned. (That’s how it works, right? I mean, the Tigers earned more runs than the Cardinals in Game 4… oh. You mean we don’t distinguished between earned wins and unearned wins? Got it.)
I’m really not convinced that the spread in talent between those two teams is so great as to make a significant difference in a five-game set. They’re all tough opponents.
Eric Seidman: If I’m the Red Sox, honestly, I’m probably not too worried about facing either the White Sox or Angels. The Red Sox are built for the playoffs, but if I have to choose, I believe they would have an easier time with the White Sox, who seem to be more dependant on the long-ball to score runs than the small ball Angels. Same would go for the Rays, though both teams may be a bit more of a problem for them. If the White Sox do not have Carlos Quentin, then each team would likely choose to play them if at all possible. The Angels could be a good playoff team with their propensity for succeeding in close games and the fact that they are no reliant on home runs. If the Red Sox play the Angels in the first round it should be very interesting. I’m counting on an AL East championship series, though.
Pizza Cutter: If there’s a team built for the playoffs, especially in the pitching staff, it’s Boston. Tampa has done well in the regular season with it’s pitching by having five guys who are all quite good, but not elite. This year, Jon Lester has emerged as a real force with which to be reckoned while Dice-K has been outstanding as well. You pitch your top two starters a lot more in the playoffs, so it’s better to concentrate more ability in those two pitchers. So even though the Rays will probably have the better record during the regular season, I’m more afraid of the Red Sox. On the flip side, I’d be hoping to play the White Sox over the Angels, despite the fact that the White Sox have a better run differential than the Angels (’tis true!). Carlos Quentin may or may not play, which is a big deal, but even then, I’m still a little leery of the Angels. It’s tempting to write the Angels off as overplaying their Pythagorean projections. However, they are a team built perfectly to take advantage of the “hole” in the Pythagorean projections. They win a lot of close games. For all the grief I give the save record, K-Rod is a really good reliever. Plus, for what it’s worth, the Angels would have home field advantage.