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BuckeyeRedleg
05-09-2008, 10:29 AM
The Columbus Dispatch has a new Reds beat writer, Scott Priestle, who seems to be a rarity today compared with most traditional (newspaper) baseball writers, in that he has embraced non-traditional stats in his articles. He does try to to keep it simple (probably to not confuse the casual fan), so the hardcore saber enthusiast isn't going to be blown away with anything earth shattering in these articles. However, they are a breath of fresh air from the typical print that we are accustomed too.

This particular article focuses on the Reds defense (or lack thereof) and two things stick out with me.

1. Jeff Keppinger is a perfect example of my beef with traditional defensive stats (errors committed/fielding percentage). He appears to be doing a good job at SS, but he has limited range and the advanced defensive stats show that he is below-average overall.

2. Reds assistant GM, Bob Miller, somewhat dismisses these non-traditional defensive stats, since they are "more subjective than offensive statistics".

My eyes tell me that Kepp has limited range. My eyes are subjective. I don't need zone ratings or revised zone ratings to tell me that, however they do back it up. I would hope our FO doesn't make the mistake of falling in love with Kepp's bat (which I feel is decent, but somewhat overrated), and stick him at SS or 3B permanently. Don't get me wrong, his bat is good enough to play SS full-time, I just don't think his glove is.

If Gonzalez is let go somehow, I would hope the only way Jeff Keppinger becomes a regular is if he takes 2B and Brandon Phillips moves to SS. Otherwise, I like him as a super-utility player (see: Ryan Freel 3 years ago). I just hope they don't make the same mistake with Kepp and try to make him something he's probably not - an everyday player.



Stats show fielding flaws
Traditional figures look OK, but advanced metrics don't
Friday, May 9, 2008 2:58 AM
By Scott Priestle

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

CINCINNATI -- Bronson Arroyo carried his 8.63 ERA and a smile into the Reds clubhouse the past three days. He insists he feels as healthy and strong as ever, so he is going about his business the same as always.


"I don't have one ache, not even a headache," he said. "There's nothing I can complain about."

He could complain about defense, but it is not his nature. And it might not resonate, anyway.

By some measures, the Reds are an average defensive team, steady at most positions. At the start of play yesterday, they were tied for 15th in the major leagues in fielding percentage, the middle of the pack.

By more sophisticated measures, the Reds are decidedly below average. More than 32 percent of the balls put in play against them have become hits or errors, the highest percentage in the majors. By comparison, about 28 percent of balls in play against the Chicago Cubs become hits or errors.

Reds pitchers lead the majors in strikeouts, so there aren't as many balls in play against them as against the Cubs. But Arroyo and Matt Belisle, who are scheduled to start the next two games, have needed help from teammates unable to provide it.

According to a formula developed by Tom Tango and available through the Hardball Times, Arroyo's "fielding independent" ERA is 5.89 and Belisle's is 4.33, meaning the Cincinnati defense has cost Arroyo nearly three runs on his ERA and cost Belisle about 2 1/2 runs. It has cost Josh Fogg 3 1/2 runs.

"I've had stretches like this before," Arroyo said, citing a skid last year in which he went 0-4 with a 10.62 ERA. "That's the way baseball is."

Reds manager Dusty Baker said he believes the three most important ingredients for a successful team are "pitching, defense and timely hitting -- in that order." Asked for his impression of the team's defense to date, he pointed to the fielding percentage.

"We're pretty good, but we can get better," he said.

Shortstop Jeff Keppinger might be the embodiment of the Reds defense. He played mostly second base as a professional before joining the Reds last season. Keppinger lacks the typical shortstop's range but has made only one error in 33 games.

"For playing a position nobody thought I could play, I think I've done well," he said.

He ranked third among big-league shortstops in fielding percentage at the start of play yesterday. But according to Baseball Prospectus' various defensive statistics, he has been below average. He ranks in the bottom half of shortstops in zone rating (a STATS Inc. creation that measures the percentage of balls in a player's zone that he converts into outs) and is among the worst in "revised zone rating" (which takes into account double plays and plays made outside the shortstop's typical zone).
Using the revised zone rating, the only Reds regulars who rank among the top half of players at their respective positions are center fielder Corey Patterson and second baseman Brandon Phillips.

Assistant general manager Bob Miller was quick to point out that such defensive statistics are more subjective than offensive statistics, so they should be taken "with a huge grain of salt."

"We've done a decent job," Miller said. "We've gotten better the last couple years, that's for sure, and we expect to keep getting better. They're certainly trying. Our guys work hard at it."



http://www.thecolumbusdispatch.com/live/content/sports/stories/2008/05/09/reds09.ART_ART_05-09-08_C5_33A5EIA.html?sid=101

Cyclone792
05-09-2008, 10:38 AM
I've got some problems when some of the newer sabermetric defensive stats attempt to use run conversions, because in many instances the run conversions are simply unrealistic, inaccurate, and not even remotely possible.

However, the newer sabermetric defensive stats do an exponentially better job in ranking and grouping players based on their defensive abilities than traditional junk stats such as fielding percentage. With the newer sabermetric defensive stats, you can paint a pretty accurate picture which players fall into the following categories, for example:

1) Poor defender
2) Below average defender
3) Average defender
4) Above average defender
5) Very good or excellent defender

If you can isolate players into one of those groups, you're making pretty good progress and the newer sabermetric defensive stats are able to do just that. Just because they have flaws in areas such as run conversions doesn't mean they shouldn't be used for what they do accomplish accurately.

BTW, that is a refreshing article from the new Reds' beat. Hopefully he becomes a regular contributor for the Reds media, because we could certainly use it.

flyer85
05-09-2008, 11:18 AM
of course the article don't address the fact the 2005 thru 2007 versions of Alex Gonzalex were well below average. I guess for Gonzo we are supposed to take the subjective evidence that he is good defensive SS when the objective says otherwise.

Gonzo:
2005 FRAA of -9 in 130 games
2006 FRAA of -9 in 110 games
2007 FRAA of -10 in 110 games

Gonzo has a reputation built on smoke and mirrors and at best in only a marginal improvement defensively. Coming back from a serious knee injury and now in his early 30's IMHO the 2008 and beyond version of Gonzo will be worse than was in 2007 and likely no improvement over Keppinger at all.

BuckeyeRedleg
05-09-2008, 11:39 AM
of course the article don't address the fact the 2005 thru 2007 versions of Alex Gonzalex were well below average. I guess for Gonzo we are supposed to take the subjective evidence that he is good defensive SS when the objective says otherwise.

I don't think the article was written as a Gonzo vs. Kepp debate, so that's probabaly why Gonzo's numbers weren't brought up.

Alex Gonzalez is signed through 2009, with the team having committed 10 M to him between these next two years. Unless they can somehow trade him, he is not going anywhere.

flyer85
05-09-2008, 11:44 AM
I don't think the article was written as a Gonzo vs. Kepp debate, so that's probabaly why Gonzo's numbers weren't brought up.then why single out Keppinger(and no one else) when the Reds don't have a better in-house solution at SS.

dabvu2498
05-09-2008, 11:48 AM
then why single out Keppinger(and no one else) when the Reds don't have a better in-house solution at SS.

Because he's a guy whose "tradtional" numbers look pretty good but are deceiving.

Falls City Beer
05-09-2008, 11:56 AM
I think I like Gonzo's bat better than Kepp's. Even with a low OBP. Either one is okay, though. Nothing exciting. Probably bench dross on a good team.

flyer85
05-09-2008, 11:59 AM
The Reds have serious holes at SS, CF, and C. Add in the fact that if Dunn leaves(figuring that JR leaving is a fait accompli) you also have a another huge hole in LF.

So thats 4 holes for Jocketty to address for 2009 and not a single in-house solution available. Good luck Walt.

Falls City Beer
05-09-2008, 12:01 PM
The Reds have serious holes at SS, CF, and C. Add in the fact that if Dunn leaves(figuring that JR leaving is a fait accompli) you also have a another huge hole in LF.

So thats 4 holes for Jocketty to address for 2009 and not a single in-house solution available. Good luck Walt.

Maybe Wayne left Walt a sloop and not a destroyer after all?

flyer85
05-09-2008, 12:02 PM
Maybe Wayne left Walt a sloop and not a destroyer after all?I wanted some of what Wayne was smoking when he left.

Joseph
05-09-2008, 12:53 PM
How much would an improved defense help the pitching, and thus take a little pressure off the line up to produce though?

TRF
05-09-2008, 12:55 PM
The OF has at least 4 in-house solutions. Bruce at AAA, Strait, Cumberland and Henry at AA. I don't know what kind of defenders the AA guys are, but all three are raking at AA and it's likely that one of them at least will be in AAA by the end of the year, probably Cumberland.

dougdirt
05-09-2008, 12:58 PM
TRF, that doesn't even include Danny Dorn who is out right now but its not a serious injury. While the outfield could be very young next year, its not as if there aren't choices... and even if there are, outfielders can be had on the market.

BuckeyeRedleg
05-09-2008, 01:03 PM
I still think if Stubbs can have success in Chattanooga this year that he is a candidate to take CF in 2009.

TRF
05-09-2008, 01:04 PM
I noticed Dorn, and am a fan of his, but his injury has likely delayed him just a bit. Guy can rake though.

flyer85
05-09-2008, 01:12 PM
have you missed anyone ... sure you don't want to add a couple of more names for potential starters in 2009.

Joseph
05-09-2008, 01:15 PM
I still think if Stubbs can have success in Chattanooga this year that he is a candidate to take CF in 2009.

I think thats a real 'best case' scenario. I do hope it happens though, and its certainly not unprecedented to bring up guys straight from AA.

Likely I'd think if he can get things kicking in high A again soon, he might get a AA promo by end of the month or even mid-June, then late in the year perhaps a AAA call up that would help grease the wheels to the bigs next year....maybe.

flyer85
05-09-2008, 01:21 PM
I think thats a real 'best case' scenario. I do hope it happens though, and its certainly not unprecedented to bring up guys straight from AA.and the large majority struggle and have to go back and forth a number of times before they find some success in the majors(if they ever do). Every OF listed is far more suspect than prospect at this point. Every in house OF option for 2009 not named Bruce is a longshot at best. Look at the current Reds and you see the struggles in the past of a number of top prospects(Phillips, Encarnacion, Patterson, etc) and yet we somehow expect marginal prospects are going to take a huge leap forward and not experience the normal growing pains that most major league players have to go through.

blumj
05-09-2008, 01:32 PM
of course the article don't address the fact the 2005 thru 2007 versions of Alex Gonzalex were well below average. I guess for Gonzo we are supposed to take the subjective evidence that he is good defensive SS when the objective says otherwise.

Gonzo:
2005 FRAA of -9 in 130 games
2006 FRAA of -9 in 110 games
2007 FRAA of -10 in 110 games

Gonzo has a reputation built on smoke and mirrors and at best in only a marginal improvement defensively. Coming back from a serious knee injury and now in his early 30's IMHO the 2008 and beyond version of Gonzo will be worse than was in 2007 and likely no improvement over Keppinger at all.

I think FRAA is built on "smoke and mirrors", though. FWIW, he was top 5 in RZR from '05-'07. But, in a way, 130 games in '05, 110 in '06, 110 in '07, and what will be less than 110 in '08, tells you more of what you need to know than any defensive stats would. He could be the best defensive player who ever lived, and it doesn't help at all if he's not on the field. And I think this is now more of a pattern than an aberration.

dougdirt
05-09-2008, 01:34 PM
I noticed Dorn, and am a fan of his, but his injury has likely delayed him just a bit. Guy can rake though.

His injury has delayed him 3 weeks. Thats not a big deal at all. Top it off with its an injury that was for a cut and nothing structural of any nature to his body and its a non issue really.

Caveat Emperor
05-09-2008, 01:56 PM
I noticed Dorn, and am a fan of his, but his injury has likely delayed him just a bit. Guy can rake though.

Has a real problem with ground balls and extra calisthenics, unfortunately.

Hot wife, though.

Mario-Rijo
05-09-2008, 03:35 PM
Not too be sarcastic at all but I don't need the stats in this case to tell me that Keppinger is one heck of a good baseball player who knows what he is doing out there. That said I definitely don't need them to tell me he ain't getting to many balls but it's certainly nice when the statistics back up what your eyes have already told you. And anybody who thinks that his lack of range (or Jr's & Dunn's for that matter) is mostly a non-issue is fooling themselves. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the pitcher's on our staff who do not need the defense as much are the ones performing better. It doesn't mean that they too couldn't be helped out by a better defense behind them but it's simply not as obvious with them.

It only takes one mistake to change the entire complexion of a game and if it comes because the hitter caused it you tip your cap to him and move on. However if it comes from a constant lack of ability from your on team it's nearly unbearable. That's not to say that Keppinger doesn't have his place in MLB or the Red's, but as a starter and at one of the most important defensive positions on the field I say no way. He's the perfect back-up IF for a team that cannot afford a starter as their back-up IF. Or perhaps he could be a manageable 3rd bagger for a team with power in other more non-traditional area's like SS, CF and 2B.

Ltlabner
05-09-2008, 04:15 PM
then why single out Keppinger(and no one else) when the Reds don't have a better in-house solution at SS.

Because the point of the story was the limitation in stats, not who's better; Kepp or Gonzo.

He made his point with Kepp. No need to beat a dead horse to satify the rabid fans.

It was nice to see he went to a new source for comment in the story. I don't recal reading/hearing a quote from Bob Miller in a story. Then again, I don't remember stuff like that very well.

Cooper
05-09-2008, 04:35 PM
Btw, anyone noticed how much Freel has struggled taking the correct route to balls and occasionally getting there and having it hit off the glove or the arm or the face. Point being, he used to be a better OFer. Wondering if he has eyesight problems.

Baseball people love to point out how a new stat has flaws. They figure if it has a flaw then it must be garbage pailed. Blemish players.

Highlifeman21
05-09-2008, 04:43 PM
Btw, anyone noticed how much Freel has struggled taking the correct route to balls and occasionally getting there and having it hit off the glove or the arm or the face. Point being, he used to be a better OFer. Wondering if he has eyesight problems.

Baseball people love to point out how a new stat has flaws. They figure if it has a flaw then it must be garbage pailed. Blemish players.

Farney would take the correct route while Freel isn't, or Farney's making Freel take the incorrect route. It's one of those two scenarios.

IMO, both Freel and Hopper take rather scenic routes to balls, whereas Patterson takes the correct routes (which is one of the reasons why he's a far superior defender to either of those two).

*BaseClogger*
05-10-2008, 12:53 AM
I think it is important to note that the Reds have a severe flyball pitching staff, and that trend runs true for most of the pitching prospects, as well. Outfield defense should be more important than normal, while defense at SS, although still very imortant, not as much so...

*BaseClogger*
05-10-2008, 12:54 AM
I think I like Gonzo's bat better than Kepp's.

Why?

*BaseClogger*
05-10-2008, 12:56 AM
1) Poor defender
2) Below average defender
3) Average defender
4) Above average defender
5) Very good or excellent defender

I would love to do a series of polls to see where RZ feels each Reds position player falls into these categories. FWIW, I have Kepp as a 2 and AGon as a 3, but that could certainly change depending on what AGon looks like when he comes back from injury (if ever)...

mth123
05-10-2008, 06:27 AM
I've got some problems when some of the newer sabermetric defensive stats attempt to use run conversions, because in many instances the run conversions are simply unrealistic, inaccurate, and not even remotely possible.

However, the newer sabermetric defensive stats do an exponentially better job in ranking and grouping players based on their defensive abilities than traditional junk stats such as fielding percentage. With the newer sabermetric defensive stats, you can paint a pretty accurate picture which players fall into the following categories, for example:

1) Poor defender
2) Below average defender
3) Average defender
4) Above average defender
5) Very good or excellent defender

If you can isolate players into one of those groups, you're making pretty good progress and the newer sabermetric defensive stats are able to do just that. Just because they have flaws in areas such as run conversions doesn't mean they shouldn't be used for what they do accomplish accurately.

BTW, that is a refreshing article from the new Reds' beat. Hopefully he becomes a regular contributor for the Reds media, because we could certainly use it.

I'm not sold on the defensive stats either and find them to be too eratic, but using that scale its not hard to classify the Red's defenders. Overall they stink.

Bako (C ) - 3
Ross (C ) - 2
Valentin (C ) - 1
Votto (1B) - 4
Hatteberg (1B) - 2
Phillips (2B)- 4
Keppinger (SS)- 2, (2B) -2, (3B) - ??, (OF) - ??, (1B) - ??
Gonzalez (SS) - 3
Encarnacion (3B) - 2
Dunn (LF) - 2
Patterson (CF) - 5
Griffey (RF) - 1
Freel (CF) - 3, (LF) - 4, (RF) - 4, (2B) - 2 (3B) - 2.
Hopper (CF) - 2, (RF) - 2??, (LF) - 4.
Hairston (CF) - 2, (LF) - 3, (RF) - ??, (2B) - 2, (SS) - 1, (1B) - ??, (3B) - ??

The most overlooked defender on the team is Votto at 1B IMO. EdE would be a 4 if he could get his footwork down on his throws. I don't know much about some of the multi-position guys at certain spots. Freel has a good and largely unrecognized arm and is easily the best defensive RF on this team (until Bruce finally comes along). Not sure about Hairston or Hopper but my impression is that both are weak armed players and would probably rate a 2 in RF. Griffey is by far the worst defender for his position on this team and the upgrade to Bruce dramatically improves the overall picture. If EdE could get right, they could actually be pretty good at 4 or 5 positions. I know its blasphemy around here, but I bring Patterson back in 2009 and let he and Freel share CF (and the 7 hole in the line-up). That would make them exceptional in CF and RF and allow for an offense first guy in LF (be it Dunn or some one else) while still protecting the fly ball staff. Even so, a team can't be good defensively if its below average at SS and C

GAC
05-10-2008, 08:09 AM
Don't take this as anti-Jocketty, but I thought I'd throw it into the discussion since we are discussing about what it would take to improve this team (where the holes are, etc)....

http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news;_ylt=AggjZWl3RERN9nPFUVUpw8oRvLYF?slug=ap-reds-griffey&prov=ap&type=lgns

“I still think the season is salvageable,” Jocketty said. “A lot of it (is) I think guys are pressing. The key to this is trying to run off a few wins and take a little bit of the pressure off.”

What does he mean by salvageable?

I like what is being accomplished with our pitching staff and bullpen. Yes we have some question marks, some young players who need maturity; but overall, and in comparison to the retreads we've ran out there for the last 8-9 years, it has raised my optimism. That is an area where we are going to need to show some patience with the youngsters IMO.

You obviously don't ignore the other; but addressing the pitching has to be a priority, or else it doesn't matter how great of a defensive team you assemble behind them.

Bronson Arroyo's problem is not a mediocre or poor defense behind him. The guy is getting nailed from what I have observed. If the trend continues for him, he is projected to give up 37 Hrs, 143 ERs. That is not the result of a poor defense when balls are flying over the fence. Teams are slugging vs Arroyo at a .626 clip this year.

Matt Belisle is the other "sore spot". In '07, the guy pitched 177 innings, gave up 212 hits, 111 runs (105 earned), 26 Hrs, and carried a 5.32 ERA. Last year the opposistion carried a .482 SLG% against him. This year it's .597. End the experiment as soon as possible Walt.

These are two guys, IMHO, who belong in the bullpen, and would be on most any other successful team.

But I decided to look at, do a little comparison, between the last place Reds and first place Cards from an offensive production standpoint. It just seems to me, from looking at the "In Scoring Position" column, that the Cards are a team that really takes advantage of the scoring opportunities when they present themselves. Is it because they are more patient at the plate, more disciplined?


Reds In Scoring Position Cards In Scoring Position

Hits 293 71 347 96
BBs 123 34 171 64
Ks 203 49 213 63
OB% .321 .332 .369 .385
SLG% .415 .375 .414 .405
BA .250 .258 .276 .277
TBs 485 103 519 140
RBIs 138 88 161 130
Runs 146 96 166 138

BuckeyeRedleg
05-10-2008, 08:33 AM
Bako (C ) - 3
Ross (C ) - 2
Valentin (C ) - 1
Votto (1B) - 4
Hatteberg (1B) - 2
Phillips (2B)- 4
Keppinger (SS)- 2, (2B) -2, (3B) - ??, (OF) - ??, (1B) - ??
Gonzalez (SS) - 3
Encarnacion (3B) - 2
Dunn (LF) - 2
Patterson (CF) - 5
Griffey (RF) - 1
Freel (CF) - 3, (LF) - 4, (RF) - 4, (2B) - 2 (3B) - 2.
Hopper (CF) - 2, (RF) - 2??, (LF) - 4.
Hairston (CF) - 2, (LF) - 3, (RF) - ??, (2B) - 2, (SS) - 1, (1B) - ??, (3B) - ??

This is pretty accurate, IMO. Well done.

Is there any evidence to suggest Bako might be a 4? I just don't see how he makes it all these years being such a poor hitter unless he's above average defensively and calls a great game. I guess he could be a catcher's version of Royce Clayton or Juan Castro, but I wonder.

blumj
05-10-2008, 09:05 AM
Catchers' defense is something I have very little confidence in my own ability to judge, except that I know awful when I see it. But, if I'm comparing 2 catchers, I'm not even really sure what to go on.

mth123
05-10-2008, 09:09 AM
This is pretty accurate, IMO. Well done.

Is there any evidence to suggest Bako might be a 4? I just don't see how he makes it all these years being such a poor hitter unless he's above average defensively and calls a great game. I guess he could be a catcher's version of Royce Clayton or Juan Castro, but I wonder.

Thanks. Bako may have been a 4 in his prime, I don't know. But he's 35 now and seems to have lost a little arm wise and I just don't see anything that says he's above average. There has been a lot of dreck defensively behind the plate in Cincy and Bako and even Ross seem better than they really are by comparison. He also was always a cheap back-up and not really an asset. I think being a LH hitter helped him get back-up nods over other players. Catchers are primarily RH and teams like to keep back-ups that complement the starter. LH Bats (even weak ones) behind the plate have been pretty rare couple that with being cheap and he makes a lot of teams.

Cooper
05-10-2008, 10:08 AM
Bako can't hit so he's got to be good defensively. The inverse is also true -if a catcher can hit he has to be bad at defense. That's Scouting 101 stuff.

MikeS21
05-10-2008, 10:36 AM
I keep going back to a stat that Cincinnati Chili pointed out to me a couple seasons ago.

Through a series of stats, and a couple mathematical formulas, he proved to me how the absolute worst defensive team in baseball only allows about 1.3 more baserunners per game than the very best fielding team in baseball.

If I remember correctly, his point was that if you take a player with a better than average OBP, even if his fielding range is limited, as long as he doesn't commit excess errors for his position, it would benefit the team more to have the high OBP guy in the lineup, rather than focusing solely on defense. Basically, the idea being that the OBP guy will get on base more than baserunners he will given up due to fielding deficiencies.

To put it in perspective, while it is true that Jeff Keppinger may have limited range and is below average for a shortshop, when you actually figure it up with stats, for every two or three games Keppinger plays, there may only be one groundball that get by him that an average SS would get to.

I do have a question for some of the saber folks. Do all of these zone rating taken into account where the fielder is lined up when a pitch is thrown? For example, if a SS is lined up closer to 3B because the defense is playing a hitter to pull to the left side, do the ratings take into account that the SS was positioned towards 3B if the ball is hit back up the middle and just out of the SS's reach?

The reason I say that is that the Reds' scouting may say to pitch a hitter inside and let him pull the ball, and so the defense lines up for a pull. But, young pitchers like Cueto and Volquez may not always get pitches right where the scouting reports say to, and therefore the ball is hit into holes in the defense.

I do not think the zone ratings ought to be ignore or dismissed the way Bob Miller dismissed them. I do think defensive ratings - like all statistical analysis, should be taken in context with the understanding that every variable cannot be accounted for.

jojo
05-10-2008, 10:57 AM
How much would an improved defense help the pitching, and thus take a little pressure off the line up to produce though?

Great defense+great offense+ meh pitching= 116 wins (circa 2001 Mariners).

Falls City Beer
05-10-2008, 06:07 PM
Great defense+great offense+ meh pitching= 116 wins (circa 2001 Mariners).

+ big park for meh pitching.

jojo
05-10-2008, 09:15 PM
+ big park for meh pitching.

It really only suppresses right handed hitters who can't go the opposite way.

BuckeyeRedleg
07-13-2008, 09:47 AM
Priestle of the Columbus Dispatch at it again with a Sunday education on Sabermetrics.

Good stuff.

Going deeper

Baseball traditionalists make way for a new kind of statistician, one who looks beyond batting averages and homers and praises players' EqA and VORP
Sunday, July 13, 2008 3:35 AM
By Scott Priestle

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

CLEVELAND -- Eric Wedge and Keith Woolner joined the Indians by way of Boston and an expansion team or two.

Wedge was a catcher for the Red Sox and Colorado Rockies, then a minor-league manager for five seasons, his beliefs about baseball shaped amid the sweat and spit of a dugout.

Woolner has two degrees from MIT, a master's from Stanford and nearly two decades working for start-up software companies, his beliefs about baseball shaped by years of research and statistical analysis.

For the past year, they have shared an employer and a goal: build the Indians into a World Series contender. Each has the ear of general manager Mark Shapiro.

Welcome to major league baseball in the 21st century. Statistical analysis is no longer a curiosity or a source of conflict within the game, but a growing pool that numerous teams are tapping.

"The quality of the information has changed," Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "Some brilliant people have spent a lot of time and energy examining numbers and running analysis after analysis.

"Some of it is eye-opening research. That doesn't mean it's the answer; it's just part of the equation."

As the sophistication of the research and analysis has grown, so have the popularity and the influence. A field that was driven for two decades by science-minded baseball fans such as Bill James is reaching a mass audience and the inner circle of big-league teams.

The Web site for stat-centric Baseball Prospectus got a few thousand visitors a month 10 years ago but now has tens of thousands of paid subscribers and gets millions of hits a month, said Joe Sheehan, one of its founders. He and other BP authors are occasionally featured in Sports Illustrated.

Perhaps most telling is the fact that three men who contributed articles to the site now work full time for big-league clubs: James Click, hired by Tampa Bay two years ago in the baseball operations department; Woolner, hired by the Indians last year to the newly created position of manager of baseball research and analysis; and Dan Fox, hired by the Pirates this season to create and manage a statistical database.

"To the Indians' credit, they had a corporate culture in the front office that was open to different ideas, regardless of where they come from," Woolner said. "The measure of whether the idea is a good one is in the results it can produce, not in who had the idea or what their background is or how many years they played ball.

"If this doesn't prove to be a useful way for the Indians to go about building a ballclub, then maybe it's not going to last long term. But for now, they're open to it, and hopefully I'm contributing enough that they see some value in continuing it."

Stats and scouts
Woolner, Sheehan and others echoed Huntington's sentiment that statistical analysis is "part of the equation," not a substitute for traditional scouting.

Statistics explain what a player or team has done during a period of time longer than any scout can observe. Increasingly, today's advanced statistical analysis can suggest what a player or team is likely to do in the future, even what he or it should do to become more efficient. But statistics cannot explain why a hitter's swing produced a particular result, or how a pitcher's delivery might be changed in order to get different results.

"What I think people get in trouble with is when they go all feel or all numbers," Wedge said. "You have to put it all together and look at everything, then make your best decision. You can't have an ego about it."

When the book Moneyball, written by Michael Lewis, was published five years ago, it highlighted the tension between the Oakland Athletics' scouting department and stat-centric front office, and it quickly became a flashpoint for scouts who feared being phased out and statistical analysts who yearned for acknowledgement of their work. Since then, folks on both sides have gradually stopped debating who is more important and looked for ways to blend their viewpoints.

One veteran scout for a National League club said he studies statistics more than ever and more and more of his colleagues do the same. For instance, before coming to Cincinnati two weeks ago to follow the Reds, the scout looked up each pitcher's walk rate, strikeout rate, ground ball-to-fly ball ratio and opponents' batting average and each hitter's contact rate and walk rate.

"If you scout someone and totally dismiss the numbers, you're missing something," he said. "If you don't look at (Adam) Dunn's stats, you might think, 'This guy sucks. Get him out of here.' But he's a hitter. He gets a bad rap around here, but he's the only guy on that team who can change the game."

The poster child
In many ways, the Reds' Dunn embodies the statistical evolution.

He does not fit the old ideal of contact hitting and defense, and his batting average (225 through Friday) is poor. But he is on pace to reach 40 home runs and 100 walks for a fifth straight season, and the statistical research of the past two decades has shown that the ability to get on base and to hit for power are the most important elements of a successful offense.

At the start of the week, Dunn led the Reds in home runs, slugging percentage and Equivalent Average (EqA) and was second in Win Shares and Value Over Replacement Player (VORP).

Meanwhile, the statistical research that led to the creation of EqA, Win Shares and VORP also uncovered a red flag above Dunn: Players whose value derived largely from walks and extra-base hits tended to decline faster than players with a wider range of abilities.

An athlete such as Cincinnati's Ken Griffey Jr. can add muscle, pull the ball more often and learn to draw more walks as he ages; Dunn cannot learn to swing the bat faster.

Even an organization as traditionally scout-centric as the Reds can find value in such information. Team officials might not be able to cite Dunn's EqA, and they might not know that baseball-reference.com lists Darryl Strawberry, Harmon Killebrew, Rocky Colavito and Tom Brunansky among his comparable hitters, but some in the front office have an eye on the stat sheet.

"There's some neat stuff out there, if you can extrapolate it," assistant general manager Bob Miller said.

From software to hardball
Woolner handles all extrapolating for the Indians. He spent the previous 10 years researching and writing for Baseball Prospectus "as a hobby." He wrote or co-wrote six essays in the book Baseball Between the Numbers, including one that introduced a new statistic for measuring relief pitchers and one that debunked the notion that certain catchers can improve a pitcher's results.

"My background has always been in high-tech," Woolner said. "I had done a lot of work with products that helped analyze business data to let businesses make better decisions about inventory, their supply chains, those kinds of things. So that kind of approach works pretty well in (baseball), too. It's just a different kind of business and one we don't look at in that way."

Increasingly, folks are looking at it in that way. The ballpark isn't just for ballplayers anymore.

spriestle@dispatch.com

BuckeyeRedleg
07-13-2008, 10:01 AM
A sub-story in today's Dispatch as well.

Local fan sees the light with sabermetrics

Sunday, July 13, 2008 3:16 AM

Craig Calcaterra is a New Albany lawyer who writes the baseball blog "Shysterball." He is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and has been influenced by the growing field of statistical analysis. This is the story of his introduction to the new world, in his words:

My introduction to sabermetrics came via Rob Neyer's ESPN column, which I stumbled upon about 10 years ago. Not coincidentally, that was around the time I graduated law school and started working full time, which meant that for the first time in my life I was spending most of my day sitting in front of a computer, and then as now, the good stuff is online as opposed to print.

I had never heard of Bill James, Baseball Prospectus or any of those guys at the time, but Neyer's column introduced me to them. Given his platform -- ESPN -- I think he has introduced a lot of people to stats in the same way. He's the gateway drug to sabermetrics.

Despite having been a baseball fan since I was 5 years old (I'm 35 now), and having read and memorized just about any notable stat you could think of, I didn't realize until getting into Neyer and James that stats aren't ends; they're means. Stats are about telling us who's good and how good they are, but not all stats do a good job of this.

Like a lot of folks, I used to think RBI was the ultimate measure of a slugger, but after being introduced to statistical analysis, I realized that you can hit better than anyone, but you're not going to pile up RBI unless someone is getting on base in front of you. Same with pitchers' wins. You can have a 2.05 ERA, but if your team scores 1.5 runs for you every time you go take the hill, you will lose more games than you win.

This caused to me re-evaluate a lot of what I thought I knew, mostly about the value of individual players. Ernie Banks was great, but maybe not as great as I thought he was when I was a kid. I always knew that Joe Morgan was good, but I didn't realize just how astoundingly good he was.

More than anything, however, I think statistical analysis made me appreciate the differences between eras. Having read the Encyclopedia of Baseball from cover to cover, I used to think guys in the 1930s were so much better than guys in the '70s and '80s because their numbers were so much gaudier. After reading modern statistical analysts, I understood the many reasons why this wasn't always the case.

All that said, I don't think statistical analysis has changed the way I enjoy the game. My favorite plays as a fan continue to be the stolen base, the squeeze play, and any time jackrabbit runners try to take that extra base, and those strategies tend to be disfavored by stat-heads. Walks and home runs are really valuable, I've learned, but there's no escaping the fact they can be boring. But it has changed the way I understand the game. And really, I appreciate the game more now than I ever did as a kid. Baseball was always No. 1 in my heart, but it's so much richer a game for me now. I learn new things about it almost every day.

BuckeyeRedleg
07-13-2008, 10:04 AM
Entry from Shysterball's blog today:

Sunday, July 13, 2008
Gooing Deeper with the Columbus Dispatch

A week ago, I slammed the baseball coverage of my local paper -- The Columbus Dispatch -- as ranging from "intolerable to execrable." That was unfair because I forgot about Scott Priestle. Priestle, whose work I've commended in this space before, gets it. To show you just how much he gets it, I point you to his feature story this morning about how the stathead revolution has made its way to front offices and how it's changing the game:

Eric Wedge and Keith Woolner joined the Indians by way of Boston and an expansion team or two. Wedge was a catcher for the Red Sox and Colorado Rockies, then a minor-league manager for five seasons, his beliefs about baseball shaped amid the sweat and spit of a dugout. Woolner has two degrees from MIT, a master's from Stanford and nearly two decades working for start-up software companies, his beliefs about baseball shaped by years of research and statistical analysis.
For the past year, they have shared an employer and a goal: build the Indians into a World Series contender. Each has the ear of general manager Mark Shapiro.

Welcome to major league baseball in the 21st century. Statistical analysis is no longer a curiosity or a source of conflict within the game, but a growing pool that numerous teams are tapping.


In addition to Woolner, there are shoutouts and interviews with other former Baseball Prospectus authors James Click, Dan Fox, and the still-typing Joe Sheehan. Overall the article provides a nice overview of applied sabermetrics and the teams which are applying it.
Basic? Not for most of Priestle's audience. It's easy to forget when you get most of your sports coverage online, but the parchment reading masses are still not all too plugged in when it comes to sabermetrics, and this is especially true in a town where college football passion dwarfs baseball passion. Overall a great article by Priestle, and one I know many in this burg are happy to see.
Oh, and there's a sidebar story by someone you may know.

*BaseClogger*
07-13-2008, 04:48 PM
thanks for posting those

westofyou
07-14-2008, 11:22 AM
http://www.slate.com/id/2195149/

Derek Jeter vs. Objective Reality

Why baseball researchers are obsessed with denigrating the Yankee captain's defense.
By Nate DiMeo


Derek Jeter is quite good at playing baseball. As such, he'll earn north of $30 million this year in salary and endorsements. Despite a poor offensive season by his standards, fans voted Jeter to his ninth All-Star team, where he will start at shortstop for the American League on Tuesday night. Add to that his four World Series rings and dalliances with actresses and beauty queens, and there is a lot to recommend the Yankees star. There's just one small blot on his résumé: When it comes to playing defense, Jeter sucks.

In February, Shane T. Jensen of the Wharton School unveiled a paper on a new method for evaluating defense in baseball. The take-away from the study, which was presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, was that Mr. Jeter (despite his three Gold Gloves and balletic leaping throws) is the worst-fielding shortstop in the game. The reaction in the New York media was predictably apoplectic. The New York Post's headline: "You've Got to Be Kidding!" The reaction from baseball's vast community of statistical analysts: a collective yawn.

One reason why baseball statisticians didn't get too excited about the study is that Jensen's methods ("for each grounder ball-in-play—g-bip—we have the—x,y—coordinates in the field where the g-bip was fielded" and on and on) are grounded in the familiar language of the sabermetric literature. Mostly, though, the paper didn't provoke much intrigue because Jeter's badness is already an axiom of said literature. In fact, debunking the conventional wisdom about the Yankee captain's fielding prowess has become a standard method of proving the validity of a new fielding statistic. That places Derek Jeter at the frontier of new baseball research.

Articles in the "Jeter sucks" canon include: James Click's "Did Derek Jeter Deserve the Gold Glove?" from the book Baseball Between the Numbers, Tom Tango's "With or Without Derek Jeter" from the Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2008, Bill James' "Jeter vs. [Adam] Everett" from John Dewan's The Fielding Bible, and Mike Emeigh's "Derek Jeter and the State of Fielding Analysis in Sabermetrics, Parts 1 Through 8" (really). The gist of all these articles is that Jeter generally makes the plays he gets to (in fact, it turns out he's slightly better than most shortstops at charging slow ground balls and handling balls hit right at him), but he gets to many, many fewer than he should. As fielding-stat pioneer Michael Humphries explained it to me, "Basically, he's OK at easy plays and terrible on all others, in other words, all the plays that matter." That patented jumping, twisting throw to first? Probably just a byproduct of his limited range. As the Onion once declared, "Experts: Jeter Probably Didn't Need To Jump To Throw That Guy Out."

If the sabermetric case against Jeter's glove has long been closed, why do the sabermetricians keep opening it? In an e-mail, Tom Tango joked that Jeter comes up again and again "because he gets far more girls than his fielding talents should allow." And there's probably something to that: The stat guys want to kick a little sand back at the press-box bullies—all of whom seem to have Word macros for phrases like "nerd writing in his mother's basement"—who lazily swallow the myth of Jeter's fielding prowess.

But the better answer is that Jeter's defense is at the heart of the conflict between sabermetrics and traditional baseball fandom. A recent article by Baseball Prospectus' Dan Fox poses the age-old question, "[W]hat would Sir Francis Bacon, the English philosopher and statesman, have thought of Jeter's defense?" Fox, who recently announced his departure from the blog world to join the front office of the Pittsburgh Pirates, looks back to Bacon's notion that people tend to think that memorable incidents define the whole. So we see Jeter flip the ball to Posada or emerge bloodied after leaping into the stands to catch a Trot Nixon foul ball and think "great fielder." Bacon, like today's statistical innovators, would seek out objective scientific data to understand the larger truth about Mr. Jeter. These data show that—yes, Sox fans—Jeter totally sucks.

Derek Jeter has the (small) misfortune of playing in the first era when there are objective data about fielding. In the introduction to The Fielding Bible, Bill James points out that your standard array of batting and pitching statistics gives a decent sense of a player's skill level. That's not the case with defensive stats. Anyone who's ever yelled "You call that a hit?!?" understands the subjective nature of error rulings. Besides, the game's standard defensive statistic, fielding percentage, only tells us how a fielder deals with the balls he ends up reaching. They tell us nothing about how well a player moves through space—how he tracks fly balls, how good he is at charging bunts, whether he dives a lot because he has great range or because he doesn't react quickly enough to the ball off the bat. More sophisticated defensive statistics will not only give fans a better understanding of how the game is played. In the age of Moneyball, the teams that figure out how defense works will have seized one of the game's best remaining arbitrage opportunities.

Stat-heads and forward-thinking team executives now have several advanced fielding metrics to parse: fielding win shares, fielding runs, fielding runs above replacement, zone rating, range factor, probabilistic model of range, the Wharton guy's SAFE method (that's "special aggregate fielding evaluation"), and many more. There are so many fielding stats now because the sabermetric community has worked together on the scrivenerlike grunt work of generating useful data. Private-sector companies like Baseball Info Solutions and Stats Inc. have done most of the heavy lifting. They watch every play of every major league game and record the things (trajectory, speed, whether a ball was bobbled or fielded cleanly) that go into defense, then package the numbers and license them to baseball front offices and a few dedicated, independent stat guys. The cost of this proprietary data has not necessarily kept the stat masses from making important contributions to fielding knowledge. It has meant, however, that the best systems are the ones that are most dependent on crunching complicated numbers that don't get updated every day. We're nowhere near being able to check the box score after a game to see how a bad day in the field affects, say, Julio Lugo's ultimate zone rating.

But that day will come. The question is, does it matter to Derek Jeter? Yes and no. There's a better chance that long-deceased Hall of Fame second baseman Nap Lajoie will catch for the Arizona Diamondbacks than that Joe Morgan will cite Jeter's probabilistic model of range stats when explaining how a play unfolded. Until defensive numbers have the same score-at-home simplicity of ERA or batting average, Jeter's reputation is probably safe (as long as he keeps his error totals down). Yankee fans, sponsors, Hall of Fame voters, the ladies, etc., will continue to love him and vote him on to the All-Star team. He will continue to win games, big paychecks, and maybe rings with his bat and despite his glove. But one would hope that the era in which a Derek Jeter can win a Gold Glove will end, and soon, even if it does look cool when he makes those jumping throws to first base.
Nate DiMeo is a journalist in Los Angeles.