## K/BB, K/9-BB/9, and Save Situations

As I watched Brad Lidge shut down the Cubs in the ninth innings on both Saturday and Sunday, it dawned on me why my confidence level soars through the roof every time he enters a game in a save situation.  It isn’t solely because he is yet to blow a save, or because he throws with high velocity, but rather because he does not walk many batters and he strikes out a ton of them.  To me, this results in a very easygoing ninth inning experience, unlike the ones I experienced with Tom Gordon over the last couple of years.
Other fans may desire different attributes amongst their closers, but I just want the least amount of stress possible.  In theory, as long as we assume that balls in play are random, a closer that does not walk many hitters and strikes out plenty would fit this least-stress bill.  No, nobody has a 0.00 BB/9 and 27.00 K/9 but within reasonable terms the low BB/9 and high K/9 is what would interest me.  In evaluating closers during save situations in my database, and after hearing the thoughts of some fans with regards to the K/BB ratio, I wondered if it would make a difference if, instead of dividing strikeouts and walks, we subtracted?
Keep in mind that I am in no way endorsing either as the gold standard but rather wondering if it makes a difference.  One opinion I read on a forum, which was seemingly derived from one of Ron Shandler’s fantasy plans, stipulated that subtracting the BB/9 from K/9 would give a better view since the K/BB ratios can come in all shapes and sizes–a 2.50 K/BB with a 5 K/9 and a 2 BB/9 is different than one with a 9.00 K/9 and a 4.00 BB/9.  Another thought was simply to use the K/BB but set a minimum for the K/9; as in, consider any K/BB above 2.50 to be very solid as long as the K/9 exceeded 6.0.
Normally, I would jump at an opinion like this and call it poppycock because a starter can be successful with under 6 K/9 if his K/BB is great; the 6.0 minimum is essentially artificial.  However, when looking at which closer offers the least stressful outings in terms of controllable skills, might there be some credence to looking at K/BB in a different light?  John Rocker, in 1999, in save situations, struck out 15.70 batters per nine while walking 4.97.  His K/BB was 3.16, good, but not tremendous given his ridiculous K/9.  In 1994, Robb Nen had a 10.43 K/9 and a 1.74 BB/9 during save situations, a 5.99 K/BB.
The K/BB would lead us to believe that Nen was much more effective, but the K/9-BB/9 would suggest that a case could be made for Rocker.  The advantage he has in K/9 is greater than Nen’s BB/9 advantage.  Again, this isn’t something I would support in any instance other than perhaps evaluating closers in save situations.  Subtracting the BB/9 from K/9 would give us an idea of how both metrics are related to one another while also accounting for the fact that striking out batters as a closer is, well, a really good trait.  Looking solely at save situations, here are the top ten seasons in K-BB, from 1980-2007, with a minimum of 15 saves:

1. Eric Gagne, 2003: 13.89 (15.47-1.58)
2. Billy Wagner, 1999: 12.60 (15.36-2.76)
3. Brad Lidge, 2004: 12.22 (14.92-2.70)
4. Takashi Saito, 2006: 12.00 (14.00-2.00)
5. Joe Nathan, 2006: 11.39 (13.40-2.01)
6. Tom Henke, 1989: 11.36 (12.49-1.13)
7. Troy Percival, 1997: 11.17 (14.59-3.41)
8. Billy Wagner, 1998: 11.15 (14.78-3.63)
9. Eric Gagne, 2002: 10.90 (12.54-1.64)
10. Robb Nen, 2000: 10.84 (14.11-3.27)

There were actually 15 seasons in which a closer met the aforementioned criteria and posted a negative K-BB, meaning that they walked more than they fanned.  Based on this, the worst and most stressful closed season in this span belongs to the 1984 season of Doug Sisk, with his -2.34 mark.  Curious to see whether or not this stat made a difference, I ran correlations between K-BB and both ERA and OPS against, and K/BB with the same two comparative metrics.  The results:

• K-BB: -0.28 to ERA, -0.40 to OPS against
• K/BB: -0.29 to ERA, -0.37 to OPS against

Essentially, this tells us that it really does not make a difference if we use K/BB or K/9-BB/9.  Regardless of whether or not the K/BB ratio accounts for the fact that K/9 and BB/9 come in all shapes and sizes, their relationships with ERA and OPS against are virtually the same.  If setting a minimum K/9 for your starter helps in a fantasy league, go ahead, but in evaluating players in a non-fantasy setting, the minimum is artifical and K/9-BB/9 makes no difference.

## What run estimator would Batman use? (Part I)

[A note from the author: This study ended up becoming more involved than initially suspected, mostly because the author is bad at estimating such things. As such, this is the first part of the piece, which will eventually be published in two or three parts, depending. This part isn’t very technical, and largely concerns itself with the theory behind run estimation. I state this up front so that you don’t get 2,000 words into the document only to be disappointed that not a single run estimator has been evaluated at all.]

This isn’t the first study on run estimator accuracy, and I don’t promise it will be the most thorough. But I’ve been skirting around the issue in my previous work here, and so I figured it was time to finally get around to doing it proper, so that I can just have something to conveniently reference every time it comes up in the future.

Most previous studies of accuracy have concerned themselves with accuracy at the team level, using seasonal totals. This makes sense for a lot of reasons – run scoring is a team process, and team level run scoring data is readily available for entire seasons. Here’s the rub, though – estimating runs at the seasonal team level isn’t that hard. Here’s a look at the distribution of team runs per game, 1954-2007:

Notice how everything bunches up in the center? That’s because there isn’t a vast difference in run scoring totals between teams over the course of an entire season. That’s how you can explain the sterling accuracy of my latest run predictor, using runs per game:

 Correl. Avg. Error RS_G 0.693 0.593 RA_G 0.673 0.095

Okay, so it’s not even as good as, say, batting average at predicting team run scoring. But it’s pretty decent, considering I just assumed every team was league average.

## Can I Get a Cup of Coffee?

On Aug. 22, Memphis 1b Josh Phelps became the fifth AAA player to hit 30 homeruns this season. Albuquerque 3b Dallas McPherson leads the pack with 40 roundtrippers, followed by Oklahoma rf Nelson Cruz with 37, Charlotte 1b Brad Eldred with 35, and Toledo 3b Mike Hessman with 32. There’s one other thing these five have in common – not one of them has spent a day in the majors this season. If they are such good homerun hitters, why is it that their teams have not seen the need to have any of them on the 25 man squad? Read more of this post

## World Famous StatSpeak Roundtable: August 27

The roundtable settles into its new Wednesday home with we four StatSpeakers sitting around.  No guest this week (our planned guest had to pull out due to something completely unrelated), so you’ll just have to make due with three of the most brilliant baseball minds out there and Eric.  (How’d that get in there?)
Question #1: Would you rather be a fan of a team that stays competitive, over .500 and in the playoffs for the large majority of a 10-yr span but probably never wins the world series, OR a team that wins the world series twice in that 10-yr span, but is under .500 the rest of the time?
Brian Cartwright: You have to win the Series, at least once in awhile. One is short term memory, the other long term. Seeing your team win more often than not on a day to day basis brings a deal of joy, but that can all be wiped away on a Francisco Cabrera single to lf. All season watching the team win, building in anticipation (and it’s a great feeling), but 15 years later still wanting to tell anyone who’d listen that Sid Bream is the slowest runner in history, how could Bonds not throw him out? At least in the 70’s, when the Pirates lost in the playoffs five times and finished second twice, there were two World Championships to make you forget about a Bob Moose wild pitch.
Colin Wyers: I’m a Cubs fan.
Eric Seidman: Well, being a Phillies fan I like to think I have a unique perspective on this, given that for much of the 90s they were awful before becoming a consistent 85+ win team this decade.  I love being able to watch a competitive game of baseball on a given night during the season, with my team involved, and fear that watching a 70-win team that goes all out and wins 2 world series in that span would be amazing in the short-term but not terribly fun for me in the long-term.
I was thrilled when the Phillies made the playoffs last year, and didn’t even care that they got swept, because I finally got to see them get in when I wasn’t 8 years old or younger, when I could really appreciate the accomplishment.  A world series would be fantastic, but I really think I would prefer to have 130+ competitive games throughout the course of a season with the chance to get into the playoffs as opposed to 50-60 competitive games for 8 years and 2 world series thrown in.
Pizza Cutter: Since the point of the game is to win the World Series, it seems a strange question.  Having been an Indians fan in the 1990s, I’ve lived through the “consistently good, but never quite got there” scenario.  It’s heartbreaking.  I wouldn’t wish that on any non-Yankee fans.  Abraham Maslow, former president of the American Psychological Association, presented a theory of human motivation in which he said that humans naturally strive to achieve what he called “peak experiences,” a category which he saved for religious experiences.  The baseball equivalent is winning the World Series.  As someone who has cheered for the Indians (no World Series championship since 1948) and the Cubs (no World Series at all since 1945), I guess I’m rather motivated.

## Is Omar Vizquel a Hall of Famer?

A few weeks ago, one of the questions offered in our weekly (World Famous) StatSpeak roundtable was whether or not Omar Vizquel was a Hall of Fame worthy candidate.  My answer was no, although I must say, I based it on stats like range factor, primarily because those data go back several years and are free to look at.  But, that was before OPA!, my new Retrosheet fielding system that I developed a little bit ago.  In running the 2007 numbers for OPA!, I noted that Vizquel, even at 40 years old was the best defensive  shortstop in baseball, rating 20+ runs saved over the league average shortstop.  If he’s doing that now in the twilight of his career, it made me wonder what he was doing in the middle of his career.
I started running previous seasons’ OPA! to see what I could find.  If Vizquel was saving a lot of runs with his glove, maybe on the order that the great hitters of all-time were producing with their bats, maybe Vizquel deserved a second look.  Vizquel premiered in 1989 with the Mariners and is still going in 2008 with the Giants, and has played most of his career at shortstop (an inning in right field in a very weird game notwithstanding).  So, it’s just a matter of downloading the last 20 years worth of Retrosheet data files and running the syntax.
It’s never that easy.  I found a small problem with OPA!  I assumed that all of the old files would be as detailed in telling us what type of batted ball a batter hit (grounder, fly ball, liner).  The problem is that this level of detail was only present from 1993-1999 and 2003-2007.  Fortunately, that’s most of Vizquel’s career, but unfortunately, that a few good years of Vizquel’s career.  Oh poop!
The OPA! syntax that I wrote treats each batted ball type separately, and while the files in the early 90’s and early 2000’s note that an out was a groundball to short or a line drive, we are left to wonder if a hit to left was a liner or a seeing eye single.  That makes a difference because in assigning blame, ground balls are easier to field than line drives.  But, even still, perhaps we can get some idea of what Vizquel’s contribution has been in this generation of shortstops with the available data.  I took the results from the years with detailed enough files.  Here’s what I found for Vizquel, starting in 1993, when the numbers become readable.
year  OPA! runs  lg rank (min 450 IP at SS)
1993  6.51           8th
1994  -0.71         12th
1995  8.96           5th
1996 -3.57           21st
1997  15.07          3rd
1998  5.13            13th
1999  22.27          3rd
2000  ???
2001  ???
2002  ???
2003  6.29           7th
2004  -5.23         30th
2005  3.29          11th
2006  -0.33        17th
2007  23.18        1st
Vizquel has had a few good years, but in most of the years that we can glimpse, he wasn’t much more than a somewhat-above-average shortstop.  Not a bad shortstop, to be sure, but not one that was completely altering a game.  In fact, in his best years he was really only worth 20 runs or so above the average fielder.  Let’s for a moment be generous and say that Vizquel was saving 20 runs above average per season with his glove, not only in those missing years, but consistently throughout all of his years in the big leagues.  In 2007, the list of players who had around 20-22 batting runs above average included Michael Young, B.J. Upton, Chone Figgins, Carlos Lee, Garrett Atkins, and Edgar Renteria.  All of them good players, most of them deserving All-Stars, but also a list of people who will probably be members of the Hall of “Oh yeah, I sorta remember him, he was pretty good,  I guess.”  Don’t believe me?  In 1987, the list of those who put up 20-22 batting runs above average included Kevin Bass, Carney Lansford, Chili Davis, Danny Tartabull, and Kevin Mitchell.  I rest my case.
Interestingly enough, in researching Vizquel’s performance, another shortstop poked his head into the mix and got me thinking, if Vizquel’s getting mention for the Hall of Fame based on his defense (as “the greatest defensive shortstop of this era”), why isn’t this other guy?  He debuted in 1990 (a year after Vizquel) and played until 2003 and like Vizquel has a career OPS+ of 83 (so both were clearly making it by on their defense.)  By about 2001, our mystery man was reduced to part-time or utility guy duty, so his numbers of total runs saved probably went down, as you can see from his 2003 numbers.  He also didn’t really start playing full time until 1992.
His numbers (and yes, I’m being evasive about who the gentleman is) in the available years:
year  OPA! runs  league rank
1993 4.05            11th
1994  6.31            9th
1995  2.19            12th
1996  8.36            8th
1997  16.90          2nd
1998  20.74          1st
1999  25.82          2nd
2000  ???
2001  ???
2002  ???
2003  0.55           21st
In the mid- to late-90s, when Vizquel was supposedly cementing his reputation as one of the game’s best defensive shortstop and winning several Gold Gloves (Vizquel won the AL shortstop Gold Glove every year from 1993-2001, then won two more in the NL with the Giants in 2005 and 2006) he wasn’t all that great and there was someone who was pretty consistently outperforming him.   For a couple years, our mystery man was actually one of the best defensive shortstops in the league, despite getting no recognition for it.  I bet that you didn’t know that about Mike Bordick.  After all, no one’s making the case for him to go into the Hall of Fame.
Oddly enough, I would love to see Omar Vizquel go into the Hall of Fame from a personal perspective.  I write these words from Cleveland where the man is still worshipped several years after he left the team.  He sure was flashy both on and off the field.  There’s the iconic picture of him leaping in the air after making a barehand-grab-and-throw that’s one of the most easily recognized images in the city.  But, over time, he just doesn’t bear out as one of the greats, even of his own era.
So, I just can’t get behind an “Omar for the Hall” movement.  At least statistically speaking.