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Monday, April 07, 2014

Bill James Mailbag - 4/4/14 - 4/7/14

But Eckstein was a clubhouse lawyer...

The issue with the fielding is mostly tied to the spread that the system will estimate. For example, the 114 fielders in 2013 with at least 1000 innings, and including the “positional adjustment”, Fangraphs has those players with one standard deviation = 10.7 runs. http://tinyurl.com/fangraphsFLD2013 I presume that Win Shares is going to be less, probably half of that. So, if Fangraphs has [Manny] Machado at +34 runs, [Andrelton] Simmons at +32 and [Carlos] Gomez at +27 (and [Carlos] Beltran at -21!), this will drive the WAR result for many such players. Win Shares, by giving a fielding estimate a smaller standard deviation allows the offense portion to drive most of the results.

Right. And, to try to move the ball on this just an inch. .. .these discrepancies are caused by two issues. One issue is whether fielding events should be treated as proportional events or marginal events. A single only creates something like 0.29 runs; however, if one adds 100 ADDITIONAL singles to a team, marginal singles, then you’ll add something more than 60 additional runs. The marginal value of an offensive event is more than twice as great as the value of such an event integrated into the whole package. And second, there is an issue as to what is skill and what is luck. It is my view, based on what I know, that the differences between what is attributed to two fielders might equally plausibly be attributed to luck. In the same way that a hitter might hit .370 on balls in play one year and .230 the next, just based on luck; in the same way that a pitcher might give up 220 hits one year and 170 the next, just based on luck, it is reasonable to think that a fielder catching 70% of the catchable but non-routine plays, rather than 40%, might simply be luck. We don’t know. Unless or until we know, I’m using the conservative assumptions.

...I meet Rick Eckstein, when my Dad, took us to watch my nephew play while at UK. Rick was with Georgia. While talking to him I said, “If Boston had kept your brother, David in 2002 and let him play second, they would have won the WS and not the Angels.”... You got there in 2003, did anyone talk about that?

... yes, we would talk quite a bit about Eckstein, because he’s the perfect player to illustrate the need to focus on what players actually can do, rather than on how they look in the uniform. The Red Sox signed Eckstein in 1997; he hit .301 that year, hit .306 and scored 99 runs in 1998, 87-51 walks to strikeouts, hit .313 and scored 101 runs in 1999, 89 -48 walks to strikeouts, and then played decent at Pawtucket his first year at AAA, 2000—and we put him on waivers because he wasn’t athletic enough. It was ridiculous.

Hey Bill, are there pieces of baseball writing that you like to re-read (ostensibly for pleasure) every once in awhile? For me, Roger Angell’s “The Go Shouters” about the ‘62 Mets and their fans is particularly delightful, and of course the one about box scores (I think it’s simply called “Box Scores.” Thanks.

Thanks. But No; I don’t re-read anything. Even my own stuff. The only stuff I ever enjoyed re-reading was the stuff I would re-read to my kids.

...What did the Sox see after 2012 that convinced them that it was OK to let [Jonathan Papelbon] go that the Phils’ didn’t see and wasted $59 million?...

Well, actually, we didn’t let him go after 2012; we let him go after 2011, and it should be pointed out that he had a very good year in 2012 when, as I recall, we didn’t have such a good year and the guys we brought into replace him weren’t really too good. He actually left us. .. .I don’t know if you remember, but after the 2011 season we had a chaotic interval in which our manager and general manager both left, and some other people. Very early in that period, before we could get our feet back on the ground, Philadelphia made Papelbon a generous offer and he accepted it. I’m 99% sure we wouldn’t have matched the offer anyway, but I guess we’ll never know.


Thursday, April 03, 2014

Bill James Mailbag - 4/3/14

This fellow here, over here with the yellow shirt… Magnante, or whatever his name is. He’s with my opponent.

Hey Bill: I just noticed that Baseball Reference now has Mike Trout and Carlos Gomez tied for 2013 WAR leaders at 8.9 each. You show Trout as being nearly twice as valuable as Gomez (40 WS to 21.2). One expects different systems to arrive at somewhat different valuations, but a disagreement of this size strikes me as a bit bizarre. Any thoughts?

Well. ..what do you think? Do you really believe Carlos Gomez is the equal of Mike Trout? I don’t feel that I have a deep need to defend my position, and I don’t see any point in attacking there’s.

Now that baseball has finally crossed the Rubicon and begun embracing replay technology, can automating ball-and-strike calls be far behind?...

... what I have advocated for 20 years: an audible beep that only the home plate umpire hears, telling him whether the ball was or was not in the zone. He can ignore the beep if he chooses to do so; there might be cases where the technology doesn’t work, and a ball bouncing off the catcher’s shinguards will beep to signal a strike. Anything can happen. But in practice, umpires are going to learn to just go along with the beep 99.99% of the time. The game LOOKS the same; it’s the same from the seats. The only difference is, the calls are right.

Bill, from a run production stand point, would you rather have a team full of Ben Revers or a team full of Adam Dunns?

... Revere’s on base percentage the last three years is higher than Dunn’s, so it is power against baserunning. I’m not sure who would win. An odd and relevant fact is that Dunn processes as a better baserunner last year than Revere does. Revere was 11-for-22 going first to third on singles; Dunn was 3-for-27, so Revere is several bases ahead there. Revere was 5-for-8 scoring from second on a single; Dunn was 7-for-17, so Revere is further ahead. Revere was 2-for-5 scoring from first on a double; Dunn was 1-for-7, so another base or two for Revere there. But Dunn did not run into an out on the bases, all year; Revere did it five times. Running into an out is FAR more costly than the benefit of one base, so the balance of these events actually favors Dunn.

You mentioned George Allen recently. To me, he was the original moneyball man. He traded unproven commodities (draft picks) for unproven commodities (players) and won EVERY single year. Do you hav thoughts on him?

At the end of his career he was trading away the future for the present. I don’t think that was smart; I think that was selfish. I think he was a great coach up to a point, but. . .like Andy Reid in Philadelphia. . .when the coach becomes the GM, has the dual responsibility of coaching and selecting players, most often this does not work. I think Allen was a terrific coach, but I don’t think the wholesale trading of future draft picks should be allowed, and I don’t think it reflects well on anyone who does it.

Hey Bill, Baseball Reference 2013 WAR data show Mike Trout as being twice as valuable as Carlos Gomez offensively, but suggest that Gomez was five and a half wins better than Trout defensively, and that Trout’s defense actually cost the Angels a win last year. I am skeptical of that assessment, but that is where the discrepancy lies.

I was assuming that everybody knew that. What I was asking—and am asking—is, do you believe it? I don’t believe it; I think it is silly, so I’m not going to worry about arguing it through, because I don’t think anyone really believes that.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Bill James Mailbag - 3/25/14 - 3/26/14

C’mon now, cancelling the World Series is joyous compared to Arli$$.

Hey Bill, In what context do “one run” offensive strategies (in particular the sacrifice bunt, but also stolen bases) make sense in the early innings of a game? Said another way, how scarce do runs need to be in order to make the sacrifice bunt a favorable strategy in the early innings of a game?

I’m not sure I have a solid understanding of the issue. Billy Southworth bunted constantly in the early innings, believing that the most important thing was to grab the lead. Southworth’s teams were tremendously successful. It could be that if you have a GREAT team, one way to maximize that is to bunt in the early innings. I DOUBT that, but I don’t KNOW that it is untrue. And, as I have pointed out before. . .if the third baseman can’t field a bunt, why not bunt?

Re Southworth’s strategy: I’ve always heard that teams scoring the FIRST run in a game tend to win that game by some ludicrous %, but then I realized that every shutout of course is won by the team scoring the first run, probably equivalent (or close) to the % of wins claimed by the bunting/stealing crowd. Do you see this as blowing a significant hole in the small-ball argument? McCarver used to invoke it like it was heaven-sent wisdom, but I always found it spectacularly dumb.

Well. . .spectacularly dumb is harsh. It’s misleading. If you were to look, for example, at teams that score a run in the bottom of the fourth inning, you would find that those teams win about 70% of their games, just because a) EVERY run you score is highly significant in a contest in which it only takes a few runs to win a game, and b) when you score one run in the bottom of the 4th, very often you will score 2 or more, whereas when you score NO runs in the bottom of the fourth, then you never score 2 or more. It’s not that the first run is hugely significant; it is that every run is hugely significant.

Bill: I don’t expect you to keep printing my input on this. . .

Deal.

In “Four Sluggers” you tossed in a very interesting generalization that fantasy GMs and possibly real GMs should all know - but I didn’t think was considered general knowledge: ” The usual rule is that a player is consistent when he is young; when he gets older, what he loses is not the ability to produce but the consistency of his production.” Can I take that as fact? Could you, please, elaborate on that? It would make a good subject for a serious study.

I can’t demonstrate that it’s true, no. It seems obvious to me, but then, Amy Adams didn’t win Best Actress for “American Hustle”, so I guess you never know.

Hey Bill, ESPN Magazine has published preseason predictions ( http://assets.espn.go.com/magazine/0331TEAMAL.pdf, http://assets.espn.go.com/magazine/0331TEAMNL.pdf ) based in part on a “chemistry score.” They worked with a couple of professors to build “a proprietary team-chemistry regression model” with three factors: “clubhouse demographics, trait isolation and stratification of performance to pay.” Basically, on each factor, more homogeneity is better: players with similar salaries, experience, race, nationality, etc. Each component gives a result in terms of wins; e.g., the Cubs lose 3.5 wins on “clubhouse demographics” because of “too much diversity”. A fuller summary of the method is here: http://blog.philbirnbaum.com/2014/03/espn-on-clubhouse-chemistry.html Any thoughts on this?

Ah. . .it’s happened at last. The happy marriage of sabermetrics and bullshit.

Bill, Selig will retire a the end of this year. Who are the leading candidaes to replace him?

George Will, Bob Costas, Mariano Rivera, Stephen Colbert, Pope Francis, Gwyneth Paltrow, Mitch McConnell, Dale Chihuly, Maui Mike, Rob Neyer, Robert Wuhl, Betty White and Steven Goldleaf. In that order.

The District Attorney Posted: March 26, 2014 at 12:40 PM | 40 comment(s)
  Beats: amy adams, bill james, sabermetrics, strategy

Friday, March 21, 2014

Wilson Betamit is the most underrated player in major USA team sports?

Betemit is a couple of years past 30 now and missed almost all of last year with injuries, so, you know. . .it’s anybody’s guess whether he has anything left to give. But in 2010 Wilson Betemit, filling in as a place-holder third baseman for the Royals, hit .297 with 13 homers in 276 at bats, .889 OPS. The first half of 2011 Betemit hit .281, with disappointing power but a .750 OPS. They took his job away, and gave it to Mike Moustakas. Moustakas’ career OPS is 93 points lower than Betemit’s, .774 to .681. Think about it. . .almost 100 points OPS. Career. Betemit moved on to Detroit…

attaboy Posted: March 21, 2014 at 12:41 PM | 22 comment(s)
  Beats: bill james

Friday, March 14, 2014

Bill James Mailbag - 3/14/14

I’ll read my annuals with the pork and beans…

Assume MLB never expanded but it continued to recruit players as it has, roughly halving the size of the MLB pool: are there players we now consider to be at the star/solid regular level who would be sitting on the bench? IOW, which position is so full of stars/solid regulars now that the 17th best player would surprise people?

There are no such players. Expansion put pressure on the organizations to find more players, leading to larger minors, much more aggressive international scouting. Without expansion the quality would be exactly what it is now, or less. .. probably less, because whatever does not grow tends to die.

Bill, Grady Sizemore is making a comeback after missing several years. I can’t think of other position players who came back after missing several seasons due to injury. It seems more common for pitchers to miss several years with sore arms, or for players to miss time while fighting in wars. Are there other position players who have missed several years in a row due to injury, and how well have they done in their comebacks?

I think Jim Eisenreich might be the closest parallel in the last 30-40 years.

Bill, regarding platoon differentials: is it true, as my intuition tells me, that lefty pitchers do better against lefty hitters than righty pitchers do against rightyhitters? If so, do you have a theory as to why?

It is more untrue than true. There is SOME such effect, which I think is not genuinely difficult to understand, but in general, the effect is more the same than it is different.

What makes you think [Bryce] Harper’s platoon splits aren’t normal? For him anyway.

Because, in reality, almost every player has essentially the same platoon differential, not as an absolute rule, of course, but in general. People think of the platoon differential as an individual characteristic, different for each player. The reality is that it is not an individual characteristic of each player; it is a general feature of the game itself, which, over time, tends to have the same effect on every player. With a few exceptions, of course.

Having read about how you started your research while working as a night watchman, just wondering if you ever had a “eureka” moment, and what it was that convinced you to start this as a career?

There were probably several Eureka moments, but in the spring of 1977, when the spring annuals hit the newsstands, I bought several of them, as I usually did, and started working my way through them (on my shift as a night watchman.) After about a half hour I realized that I knew far more about the subject than the people writing the magazines did. It’s a normal kind of maturity moment, I think; as a child you assume that others are experts, that people who write books and people who write for magazines have some sort of magical insight that makes them better qualified than you to write these things. At some point—I would assume no matter what it is that you are interested in, stamp collecting or martial arts—at some point you realize that the people who have been educating you so far are running on empty, and it’s your turn to talk.

Have you ever looked at the most inexplicable performances in MVP voting? I stumbled across the case of Phil Marchildon today. Pitcher for the A’s in the 40s, only things he ever led the league in were losses, walks, HBP, and wild pitches. But he received MVP votes in three different seasons, including the year he led the league in losses.

Marchildon in 1942 was 17-14, but with a team that was solidly in last place, 55-99; they were 38-85 when he wasn’t the pitcher of record. He was 6 or 7 games better than the team. In 1946 he was 13-16, same team, but the team was 49-105, meaning they were 36-89 when he wasn’t on the pitcher of record, so he was still about 4 games better than the team. In 1947 he was 19-9; the A’s were 78-76, but that means they were 59-67 without him, so he’s still 5 to 6 games better than the team. (Paragraph/warning that I am telling you this from memory, hence could be wrong.) Marchildon was a Prisoner of War during World War II, and it is possible that there was some sympathy voting for him or attention effect voting for him. But also. ..his won-lost records on the teams he pitched for are extremely good, and I would suspect that the won-lost records explain most of the voting.


Monday, March 03, 2014

Bill James Mailbag - 2/27/14 - 3/2/14

Don Coffin was originally intended to manage Kane the Undertaker.

Hey, Bill, would you agree with me that HOF voters have spent a lot of time debating Jack Morris’ candidacy to the Hall and because of that they have overlooked more qualified candidates?  I am talking about Tim Raines, Fred McGriff, Alan Trammell or Edgar Martinez. Look, I don’t believe that Morris belongs to the HOF, but who am I? Fact is, I have read every argument on behalf of Morris while I haven’t heard the bandwagon for more legitamate candidates. And when Jim Kaat or Tommy John were in the ballot, I didn’t felt the same passion in the arguments of their supporters…

The arguments about Morris are fueled by the other side, and we can’t do anything about it if they keep pouring gasoline on the fire. They have the right to do so. Traditionalists have come to see Jack Morris as “their” guy, who is being kept out of the Hall of Fame by us people over here. We’d like the discussion to move on, yes, but what are you going to do?

In 1956, every National League team had an outfielder of historic greatness on the team, ranging from among the best ever to the merely stellar. Let me lay it out: Giants - Mays, Dodgers - Snider, Braves - Aaron, Reds - Robinson, Pirates - Clemente, Cardinals - Musial, Phillies - Ashburn, Cubs - Monte Irvin. Was this a unique occurrence (the AL that year, for example, had only 3 outfielders who had top flight careers)? Is it something that has become more difficult to sustain as the number of teams have grown?

Are you saying that Bob Cerv is not a player of historic stature? Pretty interesting. I would think it was historically unique, but. . who knows?

Hey, bill. For something I’m working on, I noticed that the rate of hit batters per game (per team) in MLB is now about 0.35—one hit batter per team every three games, roughly. As recently as 1980, it was 0.14, or one every 7 games. The last time the rate of hit batters was this high was in 1910. (Data from Baseball Reference.) Is this something we should be more worried about than we apparently are? (I’ll admit it worries me.)

I hadn’t looked at it in a few years. It’s related to the increase in strikeouts. If you’re trying to hit homers—and EVERYBODY now is trying to hit homers—one of the things you do is crowd the plate to increase your pull zone. One of the things that could (and probably should) be done to reduce homers is to move the hitters off the plate an inch or two.

Hey, Bill- Am I right to recall that you once questioned whether athletes who are represented by agents should also be able to form a union? If not, I apologize for the misattribution. But if so, I was hoping you could elaborate some on that. I applaud the work unions have done to by and large improve the work conditions for athletes, notably the MLBPA under Marvin Miller. But is this form of dual representation still a good idea? It seems like they can work at cross-purposes, in that what individual agents seek for their players can be hampered by membership in a union that includes both, e.g., Mike Trout and 12-year journeymen—and vice versa. Anyhow, I don’t have any strong views on the issue, but just note that it seems like an odd arrangement, and one that is only prevalent in sports and entertainment (SAG vs. the William Morris Agency, e.g.). Thanks.

Yes, it is my opinion that dual representation by an agent and a union is. . ..an odd situation presenting some issues about what is appropriate. I don’t know that I want to elaborate on it. MAYBE it’s appropriate; I just have some questions about it.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

James: On the Relative Importance of Pitching Categories (Registration Required)

Part I:

Which pitching stats are most closely connected to value?... I took all pitchers in history who pitched 199.0 to 201.0 innings… The more often a category agrees with the bottom line, the more closely it is connected to Value.

What is Value?  I decided to use Fangraphs WAR as “true value”.

The District Attorney Posted: February 26, 2014 at 12:50 PM | 11 comment(s)
  Beats: bill james, sabermetrics

Thursday, February 20, 2014

James: Big Game Pitchers (Registration Required)

Didn’t get to this right away, but hey, most of these guys pitched a while ago ;-)

Bill James recently did a 10-part series (behind his paywall) on “big game pitchers”.  He came up (in Part II) with a system “to assign ‘Big Game Points’ to every major league regular-season game played since 1952”.  Part III explains that 7.7% of regular season games end up getting designated as “Big Games”, in addition to all postseason games.

James then discusses:


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Joe Morgan Conversations: Bill James

Not that interesting an interview; posting mostly just for posterity.  Joe reels off a list of criticisms of sabermetrics, and Bill figures out ways not to disagree.  Bill does not call Joe a “self-important prig” or a “little weenie.”  He does touch on the shower customs of his youth, so I guess there’s that.

The District Attorney Posted: February 19, 2014 at 02:29 PM | 15 comment(s)
  Beats: bill james, joe morgan, sabermetrics

 

 

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