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Sunday, January 05, 2014

A Decade After Moneyball, Have The A’s Found A New Market Inefficiency?

It’s a trap, but behold it anyway…

60 percent of [Oakland’s] plate appearances were taken by fly-ball hitters, who by definition compose 16 percent of the league. No other team in the past nine years has touched 45 percent. Beane’s roster was so ground-allergic that only 0.8 percent of their plate appearances were taken by “ground-ball hitters.” That’s not just a concentrated effort to target fly balls. That’s a mission statement…

Oakland fly ball hitters hit .302 against [ground-ball] pitchers, a matchup occurring nine percent of the time. Another way of putting that: In 547 plate appearances against ground-ballers, fly ball-hitting Athletics (such as low-salary acquisitions like Jed Lowrie and Brandon Moss) hit like $16-million Matt Holliday. The rest of the time—over 90 percent of PAs—they hit like Chase Headley. The 38 percent of their fly ball hitters’ plate appearances against neutral pitchers resulted in a .282 True Average. That’s better than the solid league TAv in that matchup (.276)—and it occurred for the Athletics four times as often!...

But doesn’t O.co Coliseum stifle fly balls?

Yes, it still does… But… Because Athletic batters had the platoon advantage so often, they hit many line drives, and “quality line drives” at that (only Tampa Bay, also a fly ball-inclined team, bested Oakland’s line drive TAv)... The purpose of acquiring fly ball hitters isn’t necessarily to hit fly balls—it’s also to hit line drives.

The District Attorney Posted: January 05, 2014 at 10:23 AM | 28 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: athletics, sabermetrics

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   1. Rickey! trades in sheep and threats Posted: January 05, 2014 at 02:10 PM (#4630574)
I'm told by people with very deep math skills that batting average on balls in play is totally random and stuff.
   2. theboyqueen Posted: January 05, 2014 at 02:13 PM (#4630578)
Probably need to work on your comprehension skills then.
   3. Boxkutter Posted: January 05, 2014 at 02:17 PM (#4630580)
I bet the writers at Fangraphs are pretty pissed that this site got the scoop on them -- at least, I don't recall any articles at FG mentioning this trend.
   4. Shooty Is Disappointed With His Midstream Urine Posted: January 05, 2014 at 02:20 PM (#4630583)
Interesting stuff. I wish all these enterprising writers would stop digging into what inefficiency the A's are working on all the time, though. Leave us alone!
   5. DA Baracus Posted: January 05, 2014 at 02:30 PM (#4630593)
I bet the writers at Fangraphs are pretty pissed that this site got the scoop on them -- at least, I don't recall any articles at FG mentioning this trend.


Is there some kind of feud between Fangraphs and Baseball Prospective?
   6. Ivan Grushenko of Hong Kong Posted: January 05, 2014 at 02:48 PM (#4630620)
Is there some kind of feud between Fangraphs and Baseball Prospective?

Stat nerds all over the world are being stopped and asked at shotgunpoint "Be you a Grapher or a Prospector?".
   7. Bug Selig Posted: January 05, 2014 at 03:10 PM (#4630645)
I loved BP until everybody left and it started to suck. I am now a FG guy, but I never viewed it as an either/or.
   8. Heinie Mantush (Krusty) Posted: January 05, 2014 at 03:24 PM (#4630656)
I loved BP until everybody left and it started to suck. I am now a FG guy, but I never viewed it as an either/or.


Same here, but as of late, Russell Carleton's been doing outstanding work at BP. Jeff Sullivan is similarly excellent at FG, but FG also has the sabermetric community's #6 best writer.
   9. thetailor Posted: January 05, 2014 at 03:48 PM (#4630685)
I don't understand the lead in. Is it a trap? Is this a shitty article and I don't realize it? I enjoyed the analysis.
   10. caprules Posted: January 05, 2014 at 03:57 PM (#4630703)
Just a reference to what the site was like when Moneyball was new. Before registration, some people found it funny to start every new thread by repeating the same things: Behold!, It's a trap!, are you the biggest idiot ever?, some sad Piazza rumor failed attempt at a joke. It got to the point where a dozen or so of the first posts in many threads were some combination of the above.
   11. Rickey! trades in sheep and threats Posted: January 05, 2014 at 04:08 PM (#4630717)
When you have to explain Ackbar the terrorists have won. Wait. Ackbar was the terrorists. Damn. So confused now. Get off my lawn.
   12. Super Creepy Derek Lowe (GGC) Posted: January 05, 2014 at 04:25 PM (#4630727)
Catorce?
   13. Publius Publicola Posted: January 05, 2014 at 04:32 PM (#4630732)
Jed Lowrie, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, Brandon Moss- looks to me the new market inefficiency is ex-Red Sox.
   14. Monty Posted: January 05, 2014 at 05:45 PM (#4630802)
fly-ball hitters, who by definition compose 16 percent of the league


I'm pretty sure that's not what "by definition" means. Just because fly-ball hitters are currently sixteen percent doesn't mean they always are.

(EDIT: They're using a specific definition of "fly-ball hitter": As a result, 60 percent of Oakland's plate appearances last season were taken by "fly-ball hitters" (defined as a hitter whose ground ball rate is one standard deviation below the league mean) but it still doesn't mean there must be 16% fly-ball hitters. Consider the case where everyone in the league is precisely at the mean.)
   15. Super Creepy Derek Lowe (GGC) Posted: January 05, 2014 at 06:01 PM (#4630815)

Is there some kind of feud between Fangraphs and Baseball Prospective?


Joe Sheehan had some unkind words regarding FG a couple of years back, but he's with SI now and he basically trashed everyone except himself in his "stick to being an academic, Thomas" rant. As far as I know there is no feud between the two. I do think FG is more popular, or at least their stats are. I forgot that True Average is the new EQA.
   16. PreservedFish Posted: January 05, 2014 at 06:16 PM (#4630829)
Whilte I find it fascinating that the A's are so fly-ball heavy, I've read this article twice and I can't find any cogent explanation of the advantage that the A's enjoy. What I'm getting out of this is: fly ball hitters are usually better hitters, and the A's had a lot of them. I already knew that good hitters are better than bad hitters. The author keeps talking about a platoon advantage, but there's no actual platooning here - it's not like they start FB hitters against one type of pitcher and then GB hitters against another.
   17. valuearbitrageur Posted: January 05, 2014 at 09:12 PM (#4631030)
This BP article is so good I'm never reading another Fangraphs article until they write a new one, oh, wait, be back in a bit.
   18. Tricky Dick Posted: January 05, 2014 at 09:24 PM (#4631034)
I've read this article twice and I can't find any cogent explanation of the advantage that the A's enjoy.

The article claims that flyball hitters are especially effective against ground ball pitchers. This is a finding that I can't recall having seen previously. Apparently, fly ball hitters are able to elevate the ball against ground ball pitchers and, thereby neutralize the pitcher's main strategy. Presumably this could be used in a platoon sense, with fly ball hitters platooned against heavy ground ball pitchers.


   19. tshipman Posted: January 05, 2014 at 09:55 PM (#4631057)
Isn't this just a really old market inefficiency?

The A's platooned more than any other team. That's not a new market inefficiency. The author throws in some blather about fly ball hitters, but I think it's mostly nonsense.
   20. theboyqueen Posted: January 06, 2014 at 12:13 AM (#4631114)
It may or may not be blather, but it's hardly thrown in -- it's the whole article.

Back in the Jaha/Stairs days they had a lot of fly ball hitters too. The trick is I guess finding fly ball hitters who play reasonable defense.
   21. Walt Davis Posted: January 06, 2014 at 12:13 AM (#4631115)
Well, a few issues ...

First, the A's were pretty extreme in G/F ratio ... so much so, it would be an odd accident. In 2013, the AL average was .79; the A's were at .61 with the next closest teams at .75. It sure looks like they targeted FB hitters. In 2012 they were .66 compared with .82 league and .75 2nd place. In 2011, they tied for the lead at .71. This sure looks like a strategy.

Second, is there any advantage to this in and of itself? The 2013 A's were tied for 2nd in OPS+ but the 2012 A's were middle of the pack and the 2011 A's were downright awful. So, not clear in an obvious way.

Third, is there anything new about this? Maybe. The 2001 A's were 4th in OPS+ and 4th in G/F. The 2002 A's were also 4th. Interesting though, in 2002, the AL average was .66 which was good enough for the A's to easily lead the league in 2012. Are the A's doing something new or have they just kept doing what everybody did back then? They've been above average every year since 2001 (at least) and the well above-average may have started back in 2007.

Fourth, in what way is this a market efficiency? Are FB hitters cheaper? You'd think not, FB hitters will usually hit more HR. They will usually have a lower BA although this depends on how often they hit HR but not paying for BA is an old Moneyball lesson.

In the end I'm not sure it's anything different than a focus on more TTO style hitters. TTO groundball hitters tend to be very bad hitters. The A's were only average-ish in Ks in 2013 while doing very well on walks but it's still not a contact-oriented team.

Anyway, it's an interesting factoid that may actually be meaningful. They didn't end up here by accident I don't think so it's a good question to ask. Don't know that we've found an answer yet.

On the FB hitters vs GB pitchers, here are league splits (might be in the article, I should be lazier this time):

vs FB: 252/320/410 AL; 246/320/410 Oak
vs avg: 256/318/403 AL; 253/327/428 Oak
vs GB: 262/325/395 AL; 272/338/421 Oak

So, yeah, much better vs. average and GB pitchers relative to league, flat against FB pitchers (being Oakland, flat is still probably better than average).

Back in the BABIP wars, I recall a finding that GB pitchers get killed on FBs more than FB pitchers do and vice versa. (Knowing the human brain, it was probably the other way around.) Makes some sense -- a mistake from a groundball pitcher is either a hung breaking ball or a belt-high 90-MPH fastball. But that doesn't jive with the numbers -- their advantage vs GB pitchers isn't ISO, it's BA. (Vs average, it's mainly ISO.)

Anyway, I'll wait to see Norris, Moss and Donaldson repeat before I declare anybody a genius. Wow, Moss had a nice second half -- 294/374/671 in Aug/Sept. I think I'd put him back in the "meh" pile around mid-season.

   22. PreservedFish Posted: January 06, 2014 at 12:13 AM (#4631116)
The article claims that flyball hitters are especially effective against ground ball pitchers. This is a finding that I can't recall having seen previously. Apparently, fly ball hitters are able to elevate the ball against ground ball pitchers and, thereby neutralize the pitcher's main strategy.


I don't remember seeing that either, and it's interesting. But the article also says that the advantage is "very small, and hence overshadowed by the handedness platoon. Such a minimal advantage would (theoretically) require being multiplied through several hitters to become meaningful."

Moreover, it says that flyball hitters are simply better than groundball hitters. And if Johnny Gomes hits better against GB pitchers than you might expect, that's already present in his statistics. There isn't a good way to exploit this. Unless...

Presumably this could be used in a platoon sense, with fly ball hitters platooned against heavy ground ball pitchers.


But the A's are not doing that! If you do the math on the numbers in the article you see that the FB hitters in their lineup actually faced a lower percentage of GB pitchers than the MLB average (15% vs 17%).

There is nothing real in this article. It starts with a startling finding - that the A's had by far more flyball hitters than any other team in the last decade - but it sheds very little light on that finding.
   23. Monty Posted: January 06, 2014 at 12:25 AM (#4631119)
The article claims that flyball hitters are especially effective against ground ball pitchers. This is a finding that I can't recall having seen previously.


I've heard that claim before. It was in one of the Rotisserie Baseball Annuals, though, and I don't know to what degree those things were subject to rigorous fact-checking. But I definitely remember it being presented as a Hidden Secret to Baseball.
   24. It's a shame about Athletic Supporter Posted: January 06, 2014 at 12:40 AM (#4631125)
Interesting though, in 2002, the AL average was .66 which was good enough for the A's to easily lead the league in 2012. Are the A's doing something new or have they just kept doing what everybody did back then?


This is almost certainly a data issue -- fly ball versus ground ball versus line drive has inconsistencies all over the place, certainly back in 2001 we had nothing but manual coding from stringers (I think someone looked at this ca. 2007 and concluded that there was a major difference in how different people coded things).
   25. Walt Davis Posted: January 06, 2014 at 03:24 PM (#4631558)
In 2013, the A's also had the highest LD% in the AL so that's more balls in the air no matter how they're coded. Also .61 G/F vs. .79 league is very unlikely to be mostly coding error. (Or .66 from 2012 ... other years, maybe).

If we're thinking of the same article, it was about press-box location (i.e. where the stringers sat) and LD vs. FB effects -- so park-specific. Barring press box changes or successful efforts at correcting the bias, those effects would be fairly constant over time and have little effect on measures of change over time.
   26. Mike Emeigh Posted: January 06, 2014 at 04:05 PM (#4631618)
Back in the BABIP wars, I recall a finding that GB pitchers get killed on FBs more than FB pitchers do and vice versa.


I did a presentation at SABR '06 where I found this to be true. I haven't updated the numbers since then but I would expect it to continue to be true (it makes sense conceptually because a GB pitcher who gives up a FB, or a FB pitcher who gives up a GB, probably made a mistake in location). IIRC, this was one of the findings back in the old Elias Baseball Analyst, when the writers postulated that platooning by GB/FB orientation would be as effective, if not more effective, than platooning by handedness.

-- MWE
   27. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: January 06, 2014 at 04:21 PM (#4631643)
If other teams are focusing more on defense, it would make sense that the next step is to focus on flyball hitters that hit the ball over the defense.
   28. The District Attorney Posted: January 06, 2014 at 04:43 PM (#4631667)
Whilte I find it fascinating that the A's are so fly-ball heavy, I've read this article twice and I can't find any cogent explanation of the advantage that the A's enjoy. What I'm getting out of this is: fly ball hitters are usually better hitters, and the A's had a lot of them. I already knew that good hitters are better than bad hitters. The author keeps talking about a platoon advantage, but there's no actual platooning here - it's not like they start FB hitters against one type of pitcher and then GB hitters against another.
The thing is that the league as a whole is bringing in more groundball pitchers. TFA:
Since 2009, fly ball rates (which exclude popups here) have gradually decreased... while fly balls around the league grew rarer, Beane stocked his lineup with air-inclined hitters...

Hasn't this advantage been around forever?

Definitely... A related theory on why no other team has capitalized on the A's air-ball plan: the advantage wasn't a net positive until now, after the growth of ground-ball pitchers. This is less verifiable because labeling a pitcher isn't an easy exercise. My one-deviation-above-the-mean method is always scaled to the league—it doesn't declare pitchers as a type based on an actual rate threshold. Given the rising ground ball to fly ball ratio, though, it's not unreasonable to suggest that this platoon advantage has increased enough to be potent.

If this was in fact the A's logic (and as mentioned, they ended up with so many fly-ball hitters that you can't reasonably deny they were targeting them for some reason or another), I think it was pretty clever. Rather than trying to find what is currently undervalued as they did with OBP, you anticipate what will be undervalued based on current trends and start preparing for that. In this case, if you know teams are relying more on FIP-type analysis, that means there are going to be more groundball pitchers, which gives you an opportunity to start collecting guys who hit groundball pitchers well.

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