Bill James Newsbeat
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
The Machado (2013) - The Criterion Collection.
Yesterday, Bill James wrote (subscriber-only) about Manny Machado’s chances of breaking the all-time, single-season double record. Here’s the meat, or rather the top and bottom buns; I snipped out most of the mathematical meat:
Manny Machado has hit 31 doubles through the Orioles’ first 71 games. At that pace he would hit 73 doubles this season, which would break the major league record for doubles in a season, which is 67 (Earl Webb, 1931). What is the chance that he will break that record?
As best I can estimate it, it’s about 3%.
Combining those into one number, then, the chance would be 4% ... (.30 times .085, plus .10 times .064, etc.)
So that method says four percent, but that method is perhaps a little unrealistically optimistic. It assumes that his propensity to hit doubles is the equal of Ted Williams and greater than any other player (and greater than Williams if you measure it per plate appearance, rather than per at bat), and it assumes that he has a 30% chance of getting 697 at bats this season, which would be the 8th highest total of all time. So… .4% seems high; let’s say 3%.
Funny, I was gonna say 3.5 percent. Whatever.
Posted: June 19, 2013 at 09:06 AM | 47 comment(s)
Saturday, June 01, 2013
From 2005-present, the AL is .553 (2106 games) [against the NL]...
This is an issue that I was just completely wrong about. For years, asked about the relative strength of the leagues, I would say that I didn’t see how there could be a significant disparity between them. The teams in the two leagues draft players from the same talent pool. They send players to the same minor leagues to develop them, and they play against each other in those leagues. They trade players between the leagues, and they sign free agents from the same pool of talent. In those circumstances, how can a significant talent disparity develop?
But obviously I was wrong; once they started playing head to head the American League, over a space of thousands of games, has beaten the National League as consistently as a championship team beats a .500 team, which is a tremendously significant disparity.
What is your theory as to why or how the American League has become superior to the National league, despite all the reasons you cite as to why this shouldn’t happen?...
When the Yankees in the late 1990s developed such a fantastic team, the rest of the American League East had to run harder to keep pace. The strength of the division was a result of the other teams undertaking the necessary effort to stay close to the Yankees.
isn’t the AL operating at a disadvantage in the differences in the rules? For games in AL parks, the AL team doesn’t do anything different than usual, and the NL team gets to use an extra hitter (well, assuming they HAVE one) who’d otherwise be riding the bench, which I’d count as an advantage. For games in NL parks, the NL team doesn’t do anything different than usual, and the AL team has to GIVE UP their DH, which I’d count as a disadvantage…
Why is it that I imagine that if both teams had to give up their second baseman for interleague series, you would argue that was an advantage for the National League teams as well?
...I found a 2011 article that states the AL’s winning percentage in interleague play was 52.3% until that time, but 57.8% in AL parks. If I have the math right, that suggests a 46.8% winning percentage in NL parks. In other words, the disparity is the result of the AL’s home field advantage greatly outstripping the NL’s home field advantage, and that would seem to have to do mostly with the DH. No?
No. First of all, you get the 52% by using ALL interleague games going back to the mid-1990s, which includes several years in which the leagues were about even. Second, a much more sustainable interpretation of that data would be that the home field advantage was the same for both leagues, but that the American League just had better teams.
We all know that home plate umpires have different strike zones, and we’re aware that teams pay attention to and try to exploit that information. (Here’s a recent picture of some of Inside Edge’s umpire charts taped up in the Dodgers’ dugout.) But before I heard [Bill] James say it, I’d never considered that checked-swing strike rates might vary by base ump, or that pitchers might alter their approach accordingly. Of course, there’s no precise definition of what constitutes a swing in the official rulebook, so it makes sense that certain umpires would see swings differently. Some might rule based on whether the batter’s wrists “break,” or whether the barrel of the bat passes in front of the plate. Others might try to assess the batter’s “intent to swing.”
So I went in search of stats that could support what James said. They’re pretty tough to come by. MLBAM, Baseball Info Solutions, and STATS LLC don’t track checked swings. The only major data provider that does is Inside Edge, and even Inside Edge doesn’t track them quite the way you’d want. The company doesn’t record whether an appeal to a base umpire was made, except in rare cases where video replay revealed that an ump had made an obvious wrong call (in the opinion of the Inside Edge scout). It simply records whether there was a checked swing, regardless of outcome. Of course, that’s as subjective a call as the umpire’s is. Here’s how Inside Edge instructs its video scouts to consider checked swings, according to Product, Marketing, and Sales Director Kenny Kendrena:
“The checked swing is subjective, obviously, but the basic rule of thumb we train our guys on is to log it for the type of check that ‘the umpire needs to think about.’ In other words, they won’t log it if the action of the hitter was very subtle. It’s more for the borderline check, or at least one that puts the thought of check swing in the umpire’s head.”
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
A little old, but I finally have time today to do this stuff. (h/t Roberto)
• Title: “Wonderful Ignorance”; subtitle: “The Past Is Always Going To Be With Us”
• Bill discusses SABR’s beginnings. It was smaller, allowing for more personal interaction, and more populated by “eccentrics”. He reminds us that founder Bob Davids was reluctant to publish more than one article every two years about statistical analysis in the SABR Journal. He says that of SABR’s 70 members at the time, only himself, Pete Palmer, and Dick Cramer were statistical analysts. He feels that to an extent, SABR still reflects this emphasis on non-statistical research.
• He has an amazingly mixed metaphor about how sabermetrics is like connecting a power cord, or a hose, or a string, across oceans, or maybe lava, from the surface to the core of a planet, which is made of bricks. I dunno. His ultimate point is that sabermetrics is not about producing numbers per se, but rather about using them to answer questions.
• Bill points out that sabermetrics was easier back in the day, when even basic questions had not yet been studied. Nonetheless, “there will never be any shortage of ignorance.” He believes the LOOGY is an example of said ignorance, as he had previously explained.
• Bill discusses the structure of a front office. He explains that the front office is divided into two virtually separated sides, business and baseball operations. Business has some say in baseball ops, but the converse is not true. Baseball ops is divided into scouting, field operations, and office management.
• Scouting in turn is divided into amateur, pro and international. Scouting is necessary because MLB competition is so much better than college or high school; also, scouts learn essential personal information about players.
• Field ops is divided into minor league, major league, and field staff. “Much more of our time is focused on minor league operations than major league operations.” This is because there are more minor league teams, and also because the money goes out a little at a time, rather than in “big buckets.”
• Office management is divided into department heads, financial management, information systems, and decision-making.
• Baseball ops talks to business regarding two subjects: spending money/budgeting, and public relations (e.g., Drake Britton’s DUI was the subject of “several meetings” with PR).
• Bill regrets that Craig Wright and another friend who “had sabermetrics on his business card in the 1980s” never got shots at being GMs. “There were two major battles that went on this winter that I was completely on the losing side of, and that’s fine. I don’t expect the Red Sox to do everything I think they should do. But I’m treated with respect.” Bill speculates that his friends in the 1980s weren’t treated with respect, and responded emotionally. Bill advises anyone who wants to work in MLB not to “run too hot.”
• Bill explains that the exuberant Nick Punto is the type of player who “works really well” when you’re winning, but not so much when you’re losing.
• Bill feels that an “all-bullpen” strategy would work, but hasn’t been used yet because it isn’t enough by itself to turn around a bad team. It could—and perhaps is—being adopted incrementally.
• Re: the former popularity of the bunt/current popularity of the LOOGY: “People are very, very bad at judging intuitively relative values.”
• “I’m old and running out of energy, and I just don’t have the energy to do the Red Sox work and do the writing the way that I hope that I might.”
• Bill applies the Law of Competitive Balance to player happiness. It’s good to treat players well, but doing so will in turn increase the standard of what it takes to make the player happy. One has to “stay ahead of the curve.”
• Bill explains that there are many practical problems with grooming knuckleballers: it’s hard to coach them, bring them into minor league games and otherwise get them work, etc.
• Bill doesn’t believe that teams have better information available to them than the public, because the public simply is so much larger a group. “You’re always going to be ahead of us.”
• “We spend many, many, many, many more hours trying to manage the clubhouse than we do trying to manage the team.” He points to last year’s Red Sox as an example of why.
Monday, February 18, 2013
Seems perfect for the Red Sox.
Have you read My Baseball Diary by James T. Farrell? He wrote a ton of books, most notably the Studs Lonigan trilogy. His baseball memoir has a lot of great reminisces about baseball during the teens. Apparently one of his first literature essays was a high school paper called The Fall of Prince Hal, written in 1920 after finding out that Hal Chase, one of his favorite players ,had been involved in fixing ball games.
I generally dislike the genre. . ..personal reflections on my history of being a baseball fan. There are a hundred books like that, and my friends often recommend them to me, but they always seem to me self-centered and precious.
So, if you became a baseball manager, what current orthodoxy would you go against. Use your closer like a 60’s closer? 4 man rotation? Chocolate donuts in the dugout?
... Let’s say that the manager brings in a lefty reliever to face a lefty 200 times over the course of a season, which sounds like a lot; I doubt that any manager actually does that 200 times in a year… A lefty hitter would typically hit. . .what, 30 points higher against a right-handed pitcher? That’s six hits…
Six hits and some number of them extra base hits, yes, and maybe a walk or two, and let us assume that these tend to be high-leverage situations… Let us say, to be generous… By making that move 200 times, you save six runs.
But what do you give up? You’ve shrunk the bench to where you can’t platoon. I would argue that you can gain much, much more than 6 runs by platooning, in many cases…
Right or wrong, it is my opinion, until somebody can show me where I’m wrong, that carrying left-handers in the bullpen is a complete waste of time and resources. You not only don’t need THREE left-handers in the bullpen; you don’t need one…
I would even argue that platooning SAVES more runs than using lefty relievers, because when you have platoons one of the players will usually be better defensively than the other, so when you have a lead late in the game you can go with the better defender.
Another way to state my essential thesis is that you can control the platoon advantage much more effectively if you control it from the offensive side than if you try to control it from the pitching side. But. ...I can’t convince anybody.
Just an observation, Bill, but sports fans have funny hot buttons. (Perhaps, it’s not just sports fans, but all of us.) Tell them Al McGuire doesn’t quite meet your criteria of “great”, and you get a wave of upset readers, at least, one of whom accuses you of denigrating him. In a Scoresheet forum, I mentioned Jose Altuve and Robbie Alomar in the same sentence (they both happened to be N.L. all-star second-basemen shortly after turning 22, then became Americans Leaguers the next year.) . . . and I get thrashed for saying Altuve is going to the Hall of Fame. I guess my question is, how do you keep yourself from getting totally discouraged with your public?
It is a challenge, and I actually appreciate your asking that exact question. My audience includes many people who are brilliant, incisive and disciplined thinkers. But DISCUSSIONS, by their nature, are rambling, incoherent events that wander backward and forward. Discussions among groups of people, by their nature, tend to take sweaters and turn them into strings of yarn. The challenge of leading is a discussion is to construct the discussion in such a way that it advances our understanding of the issue; in other words, to try to take yarn and make a sweater, rather than the other way around. It’s very challenging, and I have to discipline myself, sometimes, to ignore very interesting things that people say, ignore them and not publish them, because, while the comment is interesting in itself, it unravels the discussion.
I think you are a proponent of baseball having non-standard dimensions for its parks. All the other major sports however have taken the opposite view of standardizing everything… would you support the idea that each team can set those dimensions as they want, within a league-imposed min/max range?
From the standpoint particularly of basketball, I wouldn’t think of it as one of baseball’s charms; I would simply argue that it is better. It is better from everyone’s standpoint. If you make the court wider, for example, you favor a smaller team with more quickness, and put a premium on ball-handling skills. If you make the court more narrow, it favors big, burly guys, puts a premium on passing, and minimizes the importance of dribbling.
Allowing different teams to experiment with different sized courts allows the game to breathe, allows the game to search out the most satisfying combinations. Mandating one size for all courts makes the game rigid, unable to adjust.
Wednesday, February 06, 2013
And what better day for it than the Babe’s birthday, pt. 2…
At the time Babe Ruth allegedly corked his bat, was that against the rules?
Yes. And he didn’t “allegedly” cork his bat; he was caught using a bat glued together from three pieces of wood. Sisler and Kenny Williams were caught with funny bats at about the same time.
Are NFL offensive linemen the only subgroup of players in the big 4 sports for which POSITIVE statistics aren’t kept? Or is there some statistic of measurement used for offensive linemen that i’m not aware of? I’m thinking that all other the other players in the NFL have some stats kept on them; same for all of MLB, NBA, and NHL players, right? Just curious.
It’s a good question. Do they keep stats in hockey?
Regarding the question about Malcolm Gladwell and authors you like, recently I have been reading Noam Chomsky, and I have to say his style reminds me a lot of your style. And for this reason I find it very enjoyable, even though I disagree with nearly every single thing the man says. But he explains his points in bracingly clear prose, like you do.
Thanks, Jules. I always enjoy being compared to a raving lunatic.
I recently moved to the SF Bay Area and have been told several times by old Giant fans that Willie Mays would purposely stop at first base on a sure double in order to have McCovey bat with a runner on first. Could this be true? Mays taking himself out of scoring position?
You know, I’ve read that. I doubt that it is true… I would suppose that what happened is that Mays, in some situation, turned down an effort to make a double because it was kind of a breakeven gamble, and then EXPLAINED what he had done by saying that he wanted to keep the hole for McCovey. Looked at in that way, it actually reflects extremely sophisticated on-field decision making from Mays: That, in calculating whether to push the gamble of trying for a double, he adjusted his calculations to include the fact that even if he succeeded, he would be closing the hole for McCovey. Mays was an extremely sophisticated player in those ways, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he DID do that.
Monday, February 04, 2013
One of many interesting things here is that I don’t think the “Bard wanted to start” point has normally been hit quite so hard.
When teams make a trade, do they try to make sure that the trade works for both teams?
... It is pretty much universal that you have to protect your reputation in negotiations; in other words, you can’t say things about the players you are trading that are just not true, or it will ruin your reputation and make it hard for you to trade. You can’t tell people that so-and-so is a great team leader if he’s really a turd.
But to go to the next level, that you HAVE to try to make sure the other team gets value. . .not quite. In a lot of businesses in which you make frequent transactions, you have to be sure you’re not shorting the other guy because… you get a reputation as somebody that people don’t want to trade with. We might call it “Parity Discipline.” But in baseball, you don’t make THAT MANY trades; you might make a handful of meaningful trades a year. You make a big trade with somebody; you probably don’t expect to make another trade with him for five years. It’s not a big enough number of trades to enforce Parity Discipline. If he’s dumb enough to trade you Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, that’s his problem, not yours.
[Earl] Weaver wrote extensively about [Earl] Williams in his autobiography—Weaver thought Williams had the tools to become a catcher, but Williams just didn’t want to do it, and the situation didn’t work out… How would you go about determining how a team should proceed in this situation?
It’s a mistake generally to try to make a player do something that he doesn’t want to do…
With the Red Sox, sometimes I have an idea to help the organization, and I KNOW that it’s a good idea, but I can’t get people to buy into it. Same thing. ..you can “force” the idea forward sometimes, like putting Earl Williams at catcher, but it fails on the ground if the people who have to execute it don’t believe in it…
we had a reliever last year who wanted to start. It was a complete bust, and he had a lost season.
We regret the lost season, but do we second-guess ourselves for giving him a chance to start? I don’t. I don’t think most of us do. Many times you CAN’T give the player the chance to do what he wants to do. MOST of the time, you can’t give the player the chance to do what he wants to do… But when you CAN give a player a chance to do what he wants to do, you have to do it, because the players HAVE to buy into what you’re doing, or there is no chance that it is going to work.
Expansion, more divisions, wild-card, 2 wild-cards… Are you a fan of the growing opportunities for more teams to get a chance to win the World Series?
...If it was my choice, here’s what I’d do. I’d add two teams, break them into four leagues of eight teams, and four teams would make the playoffs—period. I think Wild Cards and small divisions, generally, cheapen the championship, and make the contest less interesting.
It’s NOT about the best team winning. The best team doesn’t win, most of the time, no matter how you run it. If you put all 30 teams into one league and said that the only champion was the team that had the best record in the regular season, I doubt that the best team would win any more often. It’s not about that… It’s about making THIS game important—the June 16 game between Atlanta and Seattle, let us say—it’s about making THIS game important because you have to win these games to earn the championship.
I’m not ashamed. It’s the computer age. Nerds are in. They’re still in, right?
So I’m watching MLB Network’s “Top 10 Right Now”, hosted by Brian Kenny and focusing on catchers, when Bill James shows up with his Top 10 list ...
Kenny: “Bit of a surprise here, Bill. You throw this right out at us: Ryan Hanigan of the Cincinnati Reds. Why Hanigan?”
James: “With Ben Zobrist, those two are the most underrated players in baseball. I mean, Hanigan’s on-base percentage is not only good, it’s very, very good. He’s hit .260, .270 or better every year of his career. He walks a lot. He throws extremely well. The Cincinnati Reds’ ERA with Hanigan catching last year was 3.04; when he wasn’t catching, it was up around 3.8. Maybe Ben Zobrist is the most underrated player in baseball, but Ryan Hanigan may be the most underrated player in baseball.”
It’s hard for me to believe that a part-time player is the second-most underrated player in the game, unless you can make the case that management’s holding him down; that he’d be an All-Star if the Reds would just play him as often as he deserves. In the meantime, though, I think I’ll stick with Alex Gordon, who somehow ranks fifth in the majors in Wins Above Replacement (Wins+) over the last two seasons. Even if the method is generous—and I will note that Baseball-Reference.com’s Wins+ has him fifth, too—dropping Gordon to 10th or 15th or 20th would still have him much higher than almost everybody in the baseball world would guess. So I’m going to go with this ranking:
1. Alex Gordon
2. Ben Zobrist
3. Austin Jackson
4. Erick Aybar
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
do you think it would be realistic for a team to use a 4-man starting rotation…?
... Between 1975 and 1988, baseball went through two separate transitions, both intended to accomplish the same thing, which was the reduction of injuries/protection of arms. The first transition was from a four-man to a five-man rotation… The… idea… was that it would be OK for [a pitcher] to… face 35 or 40 batters per start, thus throwing 130 to 170 pitches per start (and sometimes more)... as [long as] he got an extra day between starts. That really didn’t work. There was no chance that it would work. If you damage a pitcher’s arm by asking him to do something marginally crazy, you can’t UN-damage it by giving him an extra day to recover.
But what COULD have been done, instead, was this. Many pitchers threw 280 to 300 innings in a season from 1965 to 1975, and many of them did so with no evidence of damage to their arms. At 17 pitches per inning, 16.5 pitches per inning, that’s 5,000 pitches in a season, more or less. Suppose that pitchers had been asked instead to pitch in a THREE-man rotation—but with strict limits of 90 pitches per start, and less than that for very young pitchers. That’s 54 starts a season, 90 pitches per start MAXIMUM. . ..you’re actually REDUCING the number of pitches thrown in a season from about 5,000 to about 4,600 (assuming that the pitcher NEVER throws 91 pitches in a season and occasionally exits after 70 or 80.)
More significant than that, you’re also reducing the stress per pitch, for an obvious reason. The most stressful pitches are those thrown when the pitcher is tired. I would postulate that the strain on a pitcher’s arm is probably proportional to the SQUARE of pitches thrown. . ..in other words, throwing 100 pitches in an outing is four times as stressful to a pitcher as throwing 50, and throwing 150 is nine times as stressful as throwing 50. .. .assuming simply that the stress increases as the pitcher becomes fatigued.
Using that assumption. . .that the stress is proportional to the SQUARE of pitches thrown….a pitcher who makes 37 starts in a season but throws 120, 130, 140, 150 or 160 pitches in each start has a total stress load of 724,000 “points” over the season. The pitcher who makes 54 starts but throws 85, 88, 89, 90 pitches every start has a total stress load of a 431,000 points. . . dramatically lower.
For this reason, I believe that if baseball had switched not from a four-man rotation to five, but from a four-man rotation to three, but with a strict 90-pitch limit, it would have worked better than what was actually done. That’s my opinion.
I also think that pitchers would have liked it. A pitcher making 54 starts for a good team would have had a fair chance to “win” 30 games, and a hell of a chance to win 20.
[The questioner is referring to electing Marvin Miller to the Hall of Fame over his stated objection - TDA]
Because the Hall of Fame is a museum and has a duty to history.
Words. That’s not an argument; that’s just a bumper sticker. A museum has a duty to history, a duty to its community, a duty to the economy, a duty to integrity, a duty to doody. . ..so what? That’s no more an argument in re Marvin Miller than it is in re Shoeless Joe, Spike Eckert or Lefty O’Doul.
Saturday, January 05, 2013
Bill James on the Hall of Fame candidates.
Summary Bonds: “you have to honor him, but I’d make him wait”; Clemens: “an obvious Hall of Famer”; Piazza: “sure”; Sosa: “I probably wouldn’t”; Biggio: “sure”; Schilling: “probably above the line”; Lofton: “probably”
Later in the show: Raines: “absolutely”; Walker: “not high on my list”; Trammell: “a Hall of Famer”; B. Williams: “probably not”; E. Martinez: “I think so”; Morris: “I wouldn’t vote for him”; D. Murphy: “I wouldn’t vote for him”; McGriff: “probably above the HOF line”
And finally, Bagwell: “Pass.” (Okay, fine, they forgot to ask him about Bagwell.)
There was also a casualty- and Bushmills-free encounter with Larry Bowa. And the next day (Friday), the show cited the BBTF Ballot Collecting Gizmo.
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