World Famous StatSpeak Roundtable: December 10

It’s a Winter Meetings roundtable this week.  I find it funny that the Winter Meetings this year are being held in the world’s biggest monument to statistical illiteracy in America, Las Vegas, Nevada (think about that one for a while.)  But anyway, today StatSpeak welcomes Harry Pavlidis, proprietor of Cubs F/X.  Harry joins us to talk about Rich Hill, Mark Teixeira, Adam Everett, and the role of race in statistics.

Question #1: What’s wrong with Rich Hill?

Harry Pavlidis: Much like all of baseball, it’s simple, but it isn’t.  Rich can’t locate his fastball.  For one year, 2007, he could.  It made him a lot like Ted Lilly – no flashy heat, but a decent change-up a dangerous curveball – and he had a career year.  Now, why can’t he command the pitch?  Confidence crushed by a first pitch home run in the NLDS is one possibility.  Back problems are another.  He’s also tried to reduce the backwards tilt in his delivery.  Maybe he just had one lucky year.   If someone has the time to invest in him, he could turn it around, but he won’t be a front of the rotation guy ever again.

Brian Cartwright: I admit to not knowing as much about Hill as the two Cubs analysts at the table today. And, so far, I’m more of a macro-sabermetrician, analyzing things from the season level. It’s easy to see that Hill walked way too many guys in 2008 to be effective, and he did have a back injury early in the season. Can he recover? During his sophomore and junior years at the Univ of Michigan, he walked 95 in 101 innings, then 38 in 75 as a senior. 36 in 29 innings at Lansing in 2003, then 14 in 65 innigs at Iowa in 2005. 2006 and 2007 were good as well, then 2008 not. It looks to me like he runs in streaks. I don’t know whether coaching can snap him out of it. I think there are periods of good enough control in Hill’s future, but how can management know when? Like Zach Duke, how many times can you put him on a major league mound, at the risk of a loss for the team, hoping that this time it will be better?

Colin Wyers: I honestly don’t know. And it’s not like I haven’t spent time considering the question. He’s out of options, though, and if he can’t figure it out in the Venezuelan Winter League he doesn’t need to be coming out of the Cubs’ bullpen. I’d expect to see him traded or nontendered soon. It’s unfortunate; he was my favorite Cubs pitcher for a while there. (Here’s a bit of advice for you: stay far clear of my favorite Cubs pitcher. I have a Mark Prior jersey. I am bad, bad luck.)

Eric Seidman: The ipps.  It happened to me in high school.  Happened to Chuck Knoblauch, Steve Sax, and Rick Ankiel.  When you lose confidence in your ability to pitch a baseball, it is extremely difficult to get back.  Perhaps he was never all that good to begin with but we saw potential and suddenly assumed he would be fantastic.  Bud Smith threw a no-hitter one year and is nowhere to be seen.  He seems like Prior-lite.  Tons of potential, little results due to staying on the field or not being able to.

Pizza Cutter: Medically, I don’t honestly know.  He does have a history of giving up a lot of flyballs and playing in Wrigley Field.  But in a few starts in 2008, he was walking 8.24 guys per nine innings.  Take a look at his plate discipline profile at the bottom of his FanGraphs page.  Teams stopped swinging against him, and why not?  His percentage of pitches in the strike zone fell by 6%.  Maybe it’s a small sample size, but then again, he was putting up similar walk numbers in the minors.  There’s an old Little League rule.  If the kid isn’t throwing strikes, don’t swing.

Question #2: While assessing statistics across the years, it it helpful to keep track of
each player’s race?

Harry Pavlidis: Two thoughts; it can be futile do try and define and differentiate “race”.   Second, it really depends on the goal.  If you want to know the first Asian player to reach 1000 hits, I guess so.  Other than curiosities and historical markers of the diversification of the league, I’m not sure what could be gained in terms of cross-era comparisons etc.

Brian Cartwright: On one hand, I bristle when I see things like government contracts that have a companu certify that they pay no attention to race when hiring, but at the same time that they also have x percent of some race on their payroll. At least over the past 50 years, I admire sports teams for signing players only on their ability to help the team win. We all know it wasn’t so before then. But, on the other hand, I read an article about the declining rate of Black participation in baseball which admits that there’s no historical reference to go by – it does seem like there are fewer on the field today, but no one has ever written down whether a player was Black, White, Native American, etc. Part of me is interested in filling in this record, but I hesitate. Which I guess is a good thing, if there’s a part of us that doesn’t even want to know what race a player belongs to. I’m not looking to predict the future, as we all like to do, but instead to look back, for example, and compare each team’s integration history with their record of winning, who played at what positions, and are there any differences in height and weight. 

Colin Wyers: It’s data I’d certainly like to have – I can think of several studies of interest that require that sort of data, mostly to do with salary issues and spread of talent. I can’t see it having a significant predictive value, though.

The other issue that sort of data could help address is league quality issues, although I’m sure there are other ways to skin that cat – it’s true that a more racially diverse league likely has a higher level of competition, and that’s something useful to quantify. Again – there are other ways to examine the issue, but a good sabermetrician never turns down data.

Eric Seidman: Seems like one of those things that works better anecdotally than analytically.  As in, it’s interesting to note that Race A compares favorably/unfavorably to Race B, but not really appropriate or sound to run a regression model to predict performance by Race in future years, etc.

Pizza Cutter: From an analytical standpoint, I don’t know what a regression model would gain from having that variable in there.  At least as far as performance between the lines goes.  Race is a social construct, and if I were doing social research, whether baseball-related or otherwise, it’s important to keep tabs on.  Now, being someone who likes to do psychologically tinged studies, maybe I could see looking at race in some specific contexts.  But to say that Billy Martian was the first green man to hit 500 HR means very little to me if I’m not playing Trivial Pursuit.

Question #3: Is Adam Everett’s signing for just 1-yr/1 mil a sign that he doesn’t understand how valuable he is defensively or that his injury is more severe than we thought?

Harry Pavlidis: Dave Cameron looked at this, and showed just how undervalued Everett is at $1 million.  I think Dave Dombrowski has an idea, and so does Adam Everett.  I’m sure his agents have made him aware.  I suspect this is all about the injury.  Remember, the deal includes incentives.  Not sure of the details, but that could close the gap if he contributes to his fullest ability.  The Tigers watched him work-out (i.e. throw) and were pleased.  They’re probably cautiously optimistic, and this contract, with the incentives fulfilled, could be a good deal for both parties – without excessive risk.  That said, I don’t think the injury is anymore severe than “we thought”, but plenty to enough to raise concerns.

Brian Cartwright: Everett might just be glad to be getting anyone to offer him a contract. Not quite Tony Pena Jr, his bat has always been tolerated in order to get his superior defense at shortstop. When his injury took away that defense, perhaps temporarily, he’s probably not a major league caliber player anymore.

Colin Wyers: It should absolutely be noted that Everett had substantial issues with his throwing arm last season. Pre-injury Everett was a highly undervalued commodity. Post-injury Everett (in a small sample) was a good but not great defensive shortstop, which isn’t good enough for a guy with his hitting profile. So, who’s right, the Tigers, or the 29 other MLB teams that let the Tigers snag him for pennies? We’ll see. 

Eric Seidman: I want to say it’s the injury because it is so clear he is far and away the best fielding SS of the decade, but I would tend to think he has very little idea how good he is because he isn’t written about or seen outside of saber-savvy blogs.  In any regard, the Tigers are paying a 1-1.5 WAR player $1 mil, which is an absolute steal given that wins cost about $5 mil.

Pizza Cutter: I’m always loathe to make diagnoses before I’ve seen a patient (and when I have no clue what I’m talking about), and I’m neither Adam Everett’s medical doctor nor anyone’s medical doctor, so I’ll pass on that part of the question.  In any case, I think it’s the former explanation.  Everett might benefit from reading some of the Sabermetric literature so that he knows how good he is.  Apparently, his agent hasn’t.  Everett has the sort of defensive talent that can save something on the order of 20 runs over the course of a season over an average shortstop.  That’s not the same as what someone like Miguel Tejada puts up with the bat, but Tejada isn’t much with the glove.  A player should be measured by his total value.  By that measure, Everett is vastly underpa… wait, he’s making a million dollars next year.  No one making a million is underpaid.  But he is under-valued.  Detroit got themselves a nice deal.

Question #4: Which team most needs Mark Teixeira?

Harry Pavlidis: The Nationals.  In every way,  too.  Tex could dominate, particularly in the NL, for several years to come.  He’s that good. Any team with an opening at first base could benefit.  Washington has had no luck at first base, so this would be a HUGE upgrade, to put it mildly.  The Nats also need a draw, a face for the franchise.  They’re apparently adrift, not selling tickets despite the new park, facing local competition from the O’s.  Not signing him would be a big whiff.  If Tex goes to Baltimore, it will be even worse for Washington (egg on face).  If they do sign him, they have a legitimate star who can be the local hero.

Brian Cartwright: Teixeira has one of the top ten or so bats in the majors today. Even if their firstbaseman aren’t as good, most teams I think are satisfied with their guy. That said, the Yankees could use a replacement for the departing Giambi. I hope the Braves have figured out that Kotchman, who they got in the trade that sent Tex away, has no bat for 1b. Jackson in Arizona’s not bad, but Tex is a lot better. Same thing with LaRoche in Pittsburgh, but I don’t think the Pirates are willing to spend that kind of money yet – but it could be a moment like the Tigers’ signing of Pudge Rodriguez.

Colin Wyers: Not the Cardinals, certainly.

The A’s could use somebody that wasn’t Daric Barton, and would also deprive the Angels of him, making up ground on their chief division rival from both ends. It’s an interesting thought under the “Things That Will Never Happen” file. 

Eric Seidman: I still think the Angels could use him the most.  In such a weak division right now they would probably win the West without him, but he is a 5-6 WAR player under 30, and those don’t come along that often.  The opportunity cost of Teix vs. the other potential starting 1B seems most severe on the Angels.

Pizza Cutter: Oddly enough, it’s the Red Sox who could probably most use Teixeira, although really they only want him because the Yankees want him.  Youk could move to third.  Lowrie becomes the new everyday shortstop.  Teixeira slips into the middle of a lineup that suddenly is scarier than a weekend with the in-laws.  But then, the Red Sox are a playoff threat with or without Tex.  The Angels, on the other hand, would have someone like Kendry Morales playing first if Teixeira isn’t re-signed.  Sure, they just have to be the best of the West, where two of the teams have said that they’re rebuilding and Texas just hasn’t admitted it yet.  But with Teixeira, suddenly, the Angels’ season wouldn’t be riding on the knees of Vlad Guererro.  The Orioles and Nats could use him for the purposes of having “a face”, but that would take them from fifth to fourth place.  The Yankees have Nick Swisher and Jorge Posada who both need to move to first base.  So, I’d say that the Angels need Teixeira the most. 

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