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.

Question #2: Courtesy of Gameday, we have play by play data for all minor league games back to 2005. Of batting, pitching, fielding (OPA! style) and baserunning, which do you think would be hardest to evaluate in a MLE system? Is there a certain level (AA, A+, etc) below which everything is unreliable?
Brian Cartwright: Once you get down to Rookie and A ball, it becomes difficult because of the amount of time that has passed from there to when some of the players eventually make it to the majors. It’s possible to compare A to AA, AA to
AAA, AAA to MLB, but there’s an attrition bias at work that gets magnified by chaining each additional level. I’d like to run OPA! on the last four seasons of minor league play by play, grouping batted balls by vector, how hard hit, fly or grounder, etc, and then see if a reliable MLE can beconstructed as has been done with batting and pitching.
Colin Wyers: Fielding. Especially at lower levels, the quality of the grounds they play on becomes a major issue – ground ball park factors at the major league level are very minor, but they’re not in the lower levels of the pros. Compound that with the fact that players will frequently play multiple positions – thus making your sample sizes smaller – and you’ve got a lot of issues that can be rather confounding.
Eric Seidman: The problem I see with the data would be that, if we classify collegiate baseball as “best”, then minor league is “best of the best”, and major league would be “best of the best of the best.”  Essentially, what I mean is that it is probably much tougher to gauge something like pitching or hitting in the minor leagues because not everyone you face is the best of the best of the best.  Something like fielding or baserunning is more of an independent skill than the pitching or hitting, and should translate more accurately in an equivalency.  It isn’t to say the hitting or pitching is inaccurate, but if it’s not a perfect science to project offense or pitching success based on major league experience, doesn’t it have to be less perfect to do using solely minor league data?
Pizza Cutter: I feel so inadequate to answer this question and I’m reduced to guessing.  I’m guessing that fielding actually translates pretty well from the minors and baserunning probably just about as well.  Experience tells us that the biggest problems in projecting are in hitting and pitching.  In the lower minors, players face guys who will be superstars and some who are just there to fill out the roster and can put up some gaudy numbers that way, perhaps as gaudy as the legitimate superstars.  But, what happens if they can’t hit a real curveball and when they get to the majors, all they face are real curveballs?  What happens if a pitcher doesn’t have a real curveball, but can blow it by guys who have slow swings, but not past actual big league hitters?  I think that’s the real guts of what’s to be done with the minor league data out there: picking apart the contenders from the pretenders.
Question #3: What’s one thing that you hear from announcers and commentators that you want to check up on?
Brian Cartwright: “Bringing the infield in adds 100 points to your batting average”. We know it adds something to the batter, but how much? It’s something begging for a cost/benefit analysis. This is one of those things that just hasn’t been recorded in the play by play. Retrosheet can’t help. I’m not even sure if Gameday mentions it, but I’ll have to look. Some 25 years ago, when I was head scorer in a college summer league, I did have the scorers note when the infield is in, and I still have all those scoresheets, a few hundred, in the file cabinet. It’s just that it would be tedious to go through all the paper. It might sit there for another decade.
Colin  Wyers: Do pitchers really pitch worse after running the bases? I’ve always meant to look into that, but have always found other projects to work on instead.
Eric Seidman: Shutdown Innings.  I took a look at this at Fangaphs earlier in the year, but I always hear announcers say that a pitcher really needs a shutdown inning right now.  It usually comes after a trailing team makes headway towards a comeback.  For example, if a team trails 4-0, and then scores 3 runs in the fourth inning, making the score 4-3, an announcer will say that the pitcher really needs a shutdown inning.  I guess it goes hand-in-hand with momentum, but I think that shutdown innings could be an interesting hold-esque stat for starting pitchers.
Another thing I always hear announcers mention is how a pitch over the plate or on the corner is likely to be called a ball if the catcher has to reach back over from where he set up.  Unfortunately, Pitch F/X data doesn’t show us catcher location so we would have to literally track each occasion on our own for now, but I would be very interested to see if this holds true or if it is merely fodder.
Pizza Cutter: I’d like to do a study on “momentum.”  Usually, it seems like something that announcers discuss after the fact to explain a run of good fortune for one team.  As in, “Boy, remember back when Jones hit that double.  You could really feel the momentum shifting.”  Had Jones doubled and his two teammates struck out, the announcer would have never said it.  But, maybe there is something to one player “feeding off” (how cannibalistic!) another player’s actions.  I suppose it can be tested…
Question #4: Is Josh Hamilton a one-hit wonder?
Brian Cartwright: No. He was once the #1 pick in the draft, and this year’s stats with the Rangers are virtually a carbon copy of what he did last year with Cincinnati. If he can stay away from injuries and temptation, Oliver the humanzee says Hamilton is good for 293/350/526, putting him in the upper 10% of MLB batters. At age 27, I could see another four to five years before noticeable decline. His ZR of .885 is pretty solid for cf, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him move to rf at some point.
Colin Wyers: Hamilton’s always had talent, he’s just had a lot standing between him and the proper application of his talent. So I don’t think he’s a Ryan Ludwick sort of guy having a “never before, never again” sort of season.
But I don’t think he’s having the sort of season everyone thinks he’s having, either. On offense he has not one but two teammates who are outperforming him, Milton Bradley and Ian Kinsler. Kinsler’s a butcher and Bradley is mostly a DH at this point, which might mitigate that.
Eric Seidman: We might be inclined to say yes to this given that Hamilton hasn’t performed well since the all-star break, but would you believe that some of his numbers were actually better last year than right now?  Most of his numbers are eerily similar, which tells me he has the capability of sustaining performance like this, but there are factors like health that could play a part in how his career ends up.
I would tend to believe that Edinson Volquez is more a flash in the pan than Hamilton, though. 
Pizza Cutter: Nah, Hamilton’s already got 150 hits this year.  Actually, it’s kind of scary how much Hamilton’s rate stats, batted ball profile, and even is slash lines from last year mirror those of this year.  He’s swinging more this year, so he’s striking out less and walking less, but he’s putting the ball into play more.  And for a guy who hits more than 20% line drives, and puts 20% of his airballs out of the yard (OK, so he’s done this in Texas and the Great American Small Park), that’s a good idea.  Had Hamilton done what he’s done over 200 or 300 PA, I’d be worried that he’s just a flash in the pan.  But, between last year with the Reds and this year with the Rangers, he’s logged more than 900 PA.  There comes a point where you have to believe that a man is for real.

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6 Responses to World Famous StatSpeak Roundtable: August 27

  1. Brian Cartwright says:

    Ludwick has shown 25 HR power his entire pro career – it’s the ability to hit the high side of .260 that’s new.

  2. Colin Wyers says:

    Looking at THT’s Marcels, Ludwick has hit .299/.379/.588 so far this season, and his projection is .280/.357/.518 going forward. I’m not trying to say that he isn’t a good hitter, but there’s a difference between top 5 in the NL (which is what he’s done this season) and slightly above average for a corner outfielder, which is probably his true talent level.

  3. DanC says:

    Good answers on #3 all around. Sounds like you have your work cut out for you. I’m also proud that no one took the opportunity to take a swipe at Joe Morgan. I don’t think I would have had the same discipline.

  4. Brian Cartwright says:

    I’ve never listened to Joe Morgan, so I can’t make an informed comment about him…although I did see he was the author of “Baseball for Dummies”

  5. dan says:

    Pizza…. how smart could you possibly be? You root for the Indians.

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