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Monday, March 19, 2012

Baseball Prospectus (Kahrl): What is the Effect of the Increase in Strikeouts?

This should be what we used to call IOT2MCO - Intuitively Obvious To The Most Casual Observer - but Kahrl makes an argument here that perhaps punting defense in favor of power bats and power arms is potentially a good thing. Maybe Jim Leyland was listening:

Playing slugs like Aubrey Huff or Lance Berkman in an outfield corner, or Derek Jeter or Skip Schumaker up the middle, is an increasingly affordable risk—with the right pitching—and as long as you’re getting enough offense.

HT to Geoff Young.

Mike Emeigh Posted: March 19, 2012 at 09:26 PM | 28 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: defense, sabermetrics

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   1. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: March 19, 2012 at 09:49 PM (#4084778)
You reading this Jack Zduriencik?
   2. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: March 19, 2012 at 09:52 PM (#4084784)
It's an interesting idea, but I demand more math!

With fewer BIP and a corresponding increase in the difficulty of BIP, how much less is a good defender worth? The graphs show real trends, and the anecdotes are nicely narrated, but I don't see the goods here. What is the difference in projected runs?
   3. PreservedFish Posted: March 19, 2012 at 09:55 PM (#4084786)
You are no doubt aware of the parable of the boiled frog.


I am not.
   4. PreservedFish Posted: March 19, 2012 at 10:03 PM (#4084791)
For all the attention given to defense in recent years, it's nice to see some small result, but for all of the attention focused on the subject since the Rays' big improvement on defense from 2007 to 2008, defenses in general simply aren't turning as many balls in play into outs as they did in 1992.


I may have missed something here, because I only skimmed the article, but I strongly disagree with the idea that these numbers (declining DER) prove that defensive quality has declined over the years. If HR% is rising, the reason is that hitters are hitting the ball harder. And if hitters are hitting the ball harder, then all batted balls will be tougher to catch, including the ones that stay in the park.
   5. PreservedFish Posted: March 19, 2012 at 10:27 PM (#4084808)
re: my own #4 - I don't think he actually says that defensive quality has declined.
   6. Mayor Blomberg Posted: March 19, 2012 at 10:50 PM (#4084816)
You are no doubt aware of the parable of the boiled frog.


Yes, I am. As a regular reader of Jim Fallows's blog, also well aware that it's BS.
   7. Dale H. Posted: March 19, 2012 at 10:51 PM (#4084817)
So the "2" is short for "the"?
   8. Christopher Linden Posted: March 19, 2012 at 11:48 PM (#4084841)
And if hitters are hitting the ball harder, then all batted balls will be tougher to catch, including the ones that stay in the park.

This intuitively sounds right. I would bet that the league-wide hit-it-on-the-screws factor is probably at an all-time high in part because of the industry's increasingly blase attitude toward batters who strike out 150+ times a year. With fewer hitters fearing a benching or demotion or good ol' "You need to cut down on those #!@&* strikeouts," it stands to reason that there would be fewer defensive, put-it-play half-swings with two strikes. But ultimately whether the typical batted ball is harder to make a play on than it was in 1965 is ultimately unknowable. It'd be great if we had the line-drive percentages that we have today, but we don't, and won't.

Happy Base Ball
   9. JE (Jason) Posted: March 19, 2012 at 11:49 PM (#4084843)
So the "2" is short for "the"?

I see what you did there.
   10. Don Malcolm Posted: March 20, 2012 at 03:26 AM (#4084906)
Meh. It's a 4% difference in terms of BIP over twenty years. There is very little explanatory value here, nor is there even an interesting anomaly to chew on. In terms of the theories about hitters hitting the ball harder, the most intriguing stats related to this still inchoate idea are located in what happens on the first pitch of an at-bat.

Batters in 1992 only had a 114 OPS+ when they swung at the first pitch, and they did so in 1 out of every 7 PAs. The first-pitch OPS+ took a jump in 2001 and is now at or near its historical high (136), but batters have stopped swinging at the first pitch as much (only 1 out of every 9 PAs). That's an odd but interesting cross-juxtaposition, much more worthy of study than the boil-the-frog-in-the-kitchen-sink approach taken by Kahrl in TFA.

And keep in mind that while Ks are up 8% since 2006, HRs and walks have declined enough to keep the 2011 BIP% much closer to the 2006 BIP%--the difference is just a little over 1%.
   11. Dr. Vaux Posted: March 20, 2012 at 04:32 AM (#4084911)
This seems as good a place as any to post that, by my calculations, the MLB ERA so far in spring training is 4.26. I doubt if that's indicative of anything. One thing nobody ever mentions about spring training stats is that it seems unlikely that fielders go all out in the exhibition games. There's no reason to dive for balls or even to sprint toward the ball especially quickly and risk hamstring pulls and such.
   12. baudib Posted: March 20, 2012 at 05:27 AM (#4084913)
Didn't RTFA but Davey Johnson put this in practice with the Mets of Gooden/Sid/Cone era. I think for Sid this was absolutely the right way to go because he was one of the most extreme K/FB pitchers in history, sometimes going entire with no more than 2-3 grounders to the infield.

Not sure if this was the right way to go with Doc, who was simultaneously being told by Stottlemyre to "not try to strike everyone out."

Then you go from Hernandez to Magadan at 1B, and then put Gregg Jefferies at 2B. And then you see things like the 1989 division race, where the Cubs have Ryne Sandberg and Mark Grace -- there could not be a greater disparity in right-side defense between the two teams.

By sight Jefferies was the worst 2B I've ever seen by quite a large margin.
   13. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: March 20, 2012 at 06:59 AM (#4084917)

Yes, I am. As a regular reader of Jim Fallows's blog, also well aware that it's BS.


It may or may not be BS.
   14. John DiFool2 Posted: March 20, 2012 at 07:41 AM (#4084922)
Anyone else thinking that we could be heading towards another dead-ball era to rival the 60's? We already are at an all-time high in K's, and BABIP has dropped 5 points in the last few seasons. If these trends continue it will require power and walks to go back up to keep pace-and they've been falling too.
   15. Bhaakon Posted: March 20, 2012 at 08:24 AM (#4084931)
Anyone else thinking that we could be heading towards another dead-ball era to rival the 60's? We already are at an all-time high in K's, and BABIP has dropped 5 points in the last few seasons. If these trends continue it will require power and walks to go back up to keep pace-and they've been falling too.


Depends on what really caused the previous offensive era. If you think it was steroids, than that's an easy yes. If you think it was doctoring of the ball or some other factor controllable by the league, then maybe not.

On a side note, there are some other big trends in sports that appear to favor pitching, which I'm surprised haven't had an impact sooner. 1) One would think that the vast improvement in sports medicine over the years would have more impact on pitchers, if only because they're injured so much more often, and 2) pitching is such a specialized talent--one that hardly translates at all to other major sports--that one would expect fewer of them to be poached by other leagues as baseball lost its place as king of the athletic hill.
   16. GuyM Posted: March 20, 2012 at 08:43 AM (#4084941)
Meh. It's a 4% difference in terms of BIP over twenty years.

The change in BABIP after 1992 was enormous. It went from .285 in 1992 to .300 in 1994, and basically stayed at about .300 for 15 years. (Declines the last 2 years may or may not prove to be permanent.) That change increased runs allowed by about .33 per 9 innings, which is about half of the entire offensive explosion of the 90s (which raised scoring about .7 R9). Hardly "meh."

But the timing also means Kahrl is wrong to attribute changes in DER/BABIP only to team defense. Fielding obviously didn't suddenly get worse in 1993 and 1994. The large majority of the change has to be the juiced ball. Other factors -- new bats, PEDs, parks -- may have contributed on the margins, but I think only the ball could produce such a large and sudden change.
   17. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 20, 2012 at 09:25 AM (#4084970)
But the timing also means Kahrl is wrong to attribute changes in DER/BABIP only to team defense. Fielding obviously didn't suddenly get worse in 1993 and 1994. The large majority of the change has to be the juiced ball. Other factors -- new bats, PEDs, parks -- may have contributed on the margins, but I think only the ball could produce such a large and sudden change.

What about expansion?

They added four teams in six years. Adding teams has traditionally boosted offense substantially. And one of the '92 additions was playing in the most hitter friendly environment ever seen.
   18. GuyM Posted: March 20, 2012 at 09:35 AM (#4084976)
Expansion had approximately zero impact on offense. It may produce a very small short-term boost, at most. The theory lives on, for reasons I don't understand, but there is basically no evidence at all that expansion made a difference.

And why would expansion increase offense? Replacement level pitchers are about as much below average (in runs allowed) as replacement level hitters (in runs produced). Give a bunch of extra PA to both groups, and the impact should be a wash. And it was.
   19. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 20, 2012 at 09:58 AM (#4084999)
Expansion had approximately zero impact on offense. It may produce a very small short-term boost, at most. The theory lives on, for reasons I don't understand, but there is basically no evidence at all that expansion made a difference.

The theory lives on b/c most expansion years see a big boost in offense. '61 AL +0.24 R/G, '69 AL +0.68, '77 AL +0.52, '61 NL +0.62, '93 NL +0.61. The only exceptions are '62 NL and '98 NL which were basically flat.

And why would expansion increase offense? Replacement level pitchers are about as much below average (in runs allowed) as replacement level hitters (in runs produced). Give a bunch of extra PA to both groups, and the impact should be a wash. And it was.

I think the theory is there are more average and below average (but better than replacement) hitters on benches that can get expanded playing time. Give the braoder use of the entire pitching staff (7-10 SPs and 8-12 RPs over a season) there is very little above replacement level pitching whose role can be expanded.
   20. GuyM Posted: March 20, 2012 at 10:21 AM (#4085028)
I don't buy the argument that the pitchers getting the extra innings are materially worse than the hitters who get extra PA. But it really doesn't matter much: the 1993 expansion is just too small to explain more than a very small fraction (5-10%) of the offensive increase. There just aren't that many extra innings given to new pitchers.

Plus, in the case of 1993/1994 we actually happen to know for sure that it wasn't expansion. Because the pitchers who pitched both in 1992 and 1994 saw their pitching performance decline drastically, just as much as pitchers overall. Tango did a nice study on this here. Looking only at matched pitcher-hitter pairs, in the same parks -- who can't possibly be impacted by expansion -- he found a 42% increase in HRs allowed from 1992 to 1994. For other pitcher-hitter combinations, the increase was 43%. I'd be shocked if the same pattern wasn't true for BABIP.
   21. GuyM Posted: March 20, 2012 at 11:06 AM (#4085086)
The theory lives on b/c most expansion years see a big boost in offense. '61 AL +0.24 R/G, '69 AL +0.68, '77 AL +0.52, '61 NL +0.62, '93 NL +0.61. The only exceptions are '62 NL and '98 NL which were basically flat.

I don't see much pattern really. In 1993/94 scoring in the AL increased just as much as in the NL, without expansion. In 1977 the NL increased .42, about the same as the AL, despite no expansion. The 1961 AL increase of .24 is small -- scoring goes up and down that much all the time -- and as you say there was no 1962 NL increase. And as for AL 1969, the obvious explanation is lowering the mound and shrinking the strikezone -- which is why the NL also increased .62 despite no expansion.

I think you're right that this is the kind of evidence that makes some people hold on to the expansion theory. But there is jut no there there.
   22. AROM Posted: March 20, 2012 at 11:10 AM (#4085094)
There's no reason to dive for balls or even to sprint toward the ball especially quickly and risk hamstring pulls and such.


Depends on the fielder. The guy who hit .285/30/110 last year and heading into his final season before free agency just wants to get himself in position for a big year. They guys who are trying to impress a manager and make the opening day roster will be giving full effort.
   23. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 20, 2012 at 11:46 AM (#4085141)
I don't see much pattern really. In 1993/94 scoring in the AL increased just as much as in the NL, without expansion. In 1977 the NL increased .42, about the same as the AL, despite no expansion. The 1961 AL increase of .24 is small -- scoring goes up and down that much all the time -- and as you say there was no 1962 NL increase. And as for AL 1969, the obvious explanation is lowering the mound and shrinking the strikezone -- which is why the NL also increased .62 despite no expansion.

I think you're right that this is the kind of evidence that makes some people hold on to the expansion theory. But there is jut no there there.


Why wouldn't you expect both leagues to be impacted by expansion? Especially post-FA, it's not like the talent pools of the two leagues are segrated.

I'd expect offense to be up in both leagues, if it was caused by expansion.

Note: I'm not saying that something else wasn't a bigger factor, but it does seem like expansion sometimes causes short-term increases in offense.
   24. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: March 20, 2012 at 11:54 AM (#4085153)
You are no doubt aware of the parable of the boiled frog.

What does Hideki Irabu have to do with this?
   25. SoSH U at work Posted: March 20, 2012 at 11:56 AM (#4085157)
Why wouldn't you expect both leagues to be impacted by expansion? Especially post-FA, it's not like the talent pools of the two leagues are segrated.


If there is an effect, there's no reason why expansion wouldn't increase equally in the NL in the 93 expansion, as the draft pulled players from both leagues.

I could see where you'd see more effect in the AL in 1977, though even then it's likely that players from both leagues were used to fill out the extra roster spots (through trades, FA signings, etc.)
   26. Mike Emeigh Posted: March 20, 2012 at 11:57 AM (#4085158)
Part of the 1961 expansion effect, also, was the addition of LA's Wrigley Field and Minnesota's Metropolitan Stadium to the ballpark mix. Both were excellent hitter's parks. AL scoring dropped in 1962 by almost as much as it went up in 1961 when Dodger Stadium replaced Wrigley.

The second deadball era, which most people flag as 1963-1968, actually lasted through 1972; the effect was masked by the scoring changes. Scoring went up in '69 when the mound was lowered, but went back down until by 1972 both leagues were back below 4 runs per game. The decline was worse in the AL, which is why they wanted to introduce the DH.

Expansion in 1977 occurred at the start of a period where teams were re-evaluating pitcher usage as a group, a trend that was started (as nearly as I can tell) by Mike Marshall's breakdown in 1975, a year after his record-setting season. From 1976 through 1990, teams started using more and more relievers for fewer and fewer innings per appearance, in virtually a straight line. As in any period of usage transition, there tends to be more scoring initially as teams adjust and lower the replacement line, and then scoring tends to stabilize back to where it was prior. The '77 expansion, I think, helped accelerate this trend, but it was already in motion before that.

-- MWE
   27. Mike Emeigh Posted: March 20, 2012 at 12:00 PM (#4085162)
Why wouldn't you expect both leagues to be impacted by expansion? Especially post-FA, it's not like the talent pools of the two leagues are segrated.


I think you underestimate the extent to which the talent pools WERE segregated prior to the advent of free agency. Inter-league trading periods were shorter, with more restrictions - it was just harder for teams to move players to the other league.

-- MWE
   28. GuyM Posted: March 20, 2012 at 12:16 PM (#4085182)
Let's break this down. We know, beyond all doubt, that expansion played no role in 1993/1994.

In 1969 we have obvious explanations for the increase in offense. If someone wants to go to the trouble of looking at pitchers who pitched in both 1968 and 1969 to confirm that their ERAs went up, be my guest. But I think we all know the answer.

The 1961/1962 story is just a nothingburger. A tiny increase in just one of the leagues. Could be explained by parks, accelerating integration, random chance, who knows....

So we're left with just 1977, where both leagues saw a jump after expansion in one league. Not much to hang your hat on. If someone wants to go to the trouble of doing the analysis, my guess is you'll find the returning pitchers saw a comparable ERA gain to the league overall. But maybe expansion played a small role.

Really, there's just nothing approaching serious evidence that expansion plays much role in general. At it basically had nothing to do with what happened in 1993-94.

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