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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Bradford: Are players buying what baseball is selling when it comes to analytics? It’s a work in progress | WEEI

It seems to be working.

The Red Sox plan this season was to load up their coaches with a whole new level of analytics, filtering a new level of information to the players. It’s a whole new thing. And it’s one which, judging by an 8-1 start and the lowest batting average on balls in play in years, certainly seems to have some merit.

But, make no mistake about it, the selling of this new way of doing things is, and will be, a work in progress. The information gatherers know it. The coaches know it. And the players, they sure know it.

Jim Furtado Posted: April 10, 2018 at 09:08 AM | 12 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: red sox, shifts

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   1. winnipegwhip Posted: April 10, 2018 at 09:48 AM (#5650686)
And it’s one which, judging by an 8-1 start and the lowest batting average on balls in play in years, certainly seems to have some merit.


Has analytics mastered a way to play only Tampa and Miami? If so, I am sold.
   2. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: April 10, 2018 at 10:41 AM (#5650723)
Rick Porcello FTFA:

Everybody wants to say percentages and all that stuff over the course of the season. Yeah, I agree with that. It's going to play out in your favor more often than not if you average it over the course of the season. But on a particular night, if you're talking about winning runs on base and you over shift a guy who has the ability to handle the bat and punch it through a shift. I just think it might be one of those scenarios where you let the guys play a normal spread defense and go from there.
Ah, OK. So play the percentages, except also figure out exactly which situations will yield the low-percentage outcome, and do the opposite thing for those situations. Got that, analytics geeks? Get to work.
   3. bfan Posted: April 10, 2018 at 12:49 PM (#5650813)
Has analytics mastered a way to play only Tampa and Miami? If so, I am sold.


This. It is as if someone wanted the Red Sox to have a great start. I am not suggesting some conspiracy theory, but they opened the season with a team pretty clearly at 30th in the list of teams and the other at somewhere south of 20th.
   4. KJOK Posted: April 10, 2018 at 03:07 PM (#5650948)
Ah, OK. So play the percentages, except also figure out exactly which situations will yield the low-percentage outcome, and do the opposite thing for those situations. Got that, analytics geeks? Get to work.


You mock, but Porcello is generally correct. What is the right play/configuration ON AVERAGE may not be the correct one in a particular situation, such as the winning run on base situation he describes, when a single is a good as a home run....game theory definitely needs to be factored in.


   5. Walt Davis Posted: April 10, 2018 at 04:10 PM (#5651027)
Twice already this year, teams have played the infield in AND shifted against Jason Heyward with a runner on 3rd. Now it's Heyward so this is a massive insult to his current hitting ability but it's hard for me to see that it can possibly make sense to surrender nearly half of the field in an attempt to cut off a run at the plate. Like I said, Heyward is so messed up right now that, even to get a run home, he seems incapable of just slapping something the other way so maybe it makes sense -- i.e. he's still more likely to pull the ball than not. But it looked mighty funny to me.
   6. Walt Davis Posted: April 10, 2018 at 04:17 PM (#5651037)
On the shift ... there's not widespread agreement anymore. The Cubs, a highly analytical team, are now one of the least-shifting teams. Some of that is the excellent range of Baez, Russell and Bryant maybe not requiring as much repositioning as other teams to cover the same territory but I assume it's also driven by a decision that it's not widely effective. Tango's first look at the shift using statcast data concluded that (a) it doesn't work at all against RHB and (b) it mainly works only against LHB with a runner on first and second open -- i.e. that its value is in taking away the traditional hole between 1B and 2B in those situations. That was just his first look and subsequent analysis might change the conclusions.

So it seems at least a few smart analytics types do think that teams are shifting too often ... or at least gaining very little from it.
   7. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: April 10, 2018 at 04:35 PM (#5651065)
You mock, but Porcello is generally correct. What is the right play/configuration ON AVERAGE may not be the correct one in a particular situation, such as the winning run on base situation he describes, when a single is a good as a home run....game theory definitely needs to be factored in.
It sounds like you're advocating for more granularity in deciding when to shift, which teams are already starting to do and which makes sense to the extent that reliable data are available.

It sounds more like Porcello wants* is to be able to somehow predict in the moment which situations are going to end up having the low-percentage outcome based on "feel" factors, which is a fool's errand. That is different than saying "the high-percentage play of [broad set of situations] is the shift, but the high-percentage play of [more granular but pre-designated set of situations] is not the shift."

* I could just be reading him wrong because of confirmation bias, but the full article is all about how pitchers in particular pay lip service to acknowledging the percentages, but focus on the inevitable negative outcomes.
   8. John Northey Posted: April 11, 2018 at 03:32 PM (#5651583)
Back in the 90's I did stats for my university team and most players ignored all stats but the ones they knew best (BA/RBI). Some would listen when I dug into them with them (one pitcher could throw a strike on command at any time, but refused to throw outside the strike zone so he was getting plastered with a 12 ERA, after I pointed it out to him and told him to not give hitters so much credit he started Greg Maddux'ing them and had a sub 2 ERA the rest of the season - strangely he passed the same info to our wildest pitcher and it worked for him as well, seems he was trying too hard to hit the zone all the time and relaxing on that helped him). One guy could hit any pitch any time but getting him to stop swinging at anything close wasn't happening sadly. Knowledge is power but being able to execute on that knowledge is the tough part.
   9. bunyon Posted: April 11, 2018 at 03:37 PM (#5651592)
If a single beats you, giving it up to guard against a homer makes no sense. It's the same rationale as bringing the outfield way in or playing one OF on the IF and the other two very shallow when the winning run is on 3rd with less than 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth. Long term, that's a crazy defense. But in the moment it's by far the best one.

The shift, as currently employed by some teams, is dramatically overused and overdone.

(Of course, so long as stubborn hitters don't punish them for it, they will likely continue to do so)
   10. Leroy Kincaid Posted: April 11, 2018 at 05:17 PM (#5651703)
WAR sells, but who's buying?
   11. Bug Selig Posted: April 12, 2018 at 12:19 PM (#5652253)
when a single is a good as a home run....game theory definitely needs to be factored in.
Dozier just punched you in the face.
   12. Walt Davis Posted: April 13, 2018 at 02:47 AM (#5652905)
when a single is a good as a home run....game theory definitely needs to be factored in.

For sure but the purpose of the shift is to cut down on singles. Also Porcello is never in the game when a single is as good as a HR so it's an odd point for him to make. He seems to be more making the point that they are shifting against guys who can "handle the bat" even at times a single would produce a run or two. As he describes it, it's hard to say whether he's right or wrong, depends a lot on what he means by "handle the bat" and "punch it through the shift" (as opposed to going away from the shift?).

If a guy is a spray hitter, it's not clear there's ever any good time to shift against him -- if teams are shifting against them in any situation, it's probably a bad decision. If a guy is a pull (GB) hitter who can't "handle the bat", there's probably no bad time to shift against him. (Apparently that's Heyward.) It's the (maybe) Anthony Rizzo types who mostly pull the ball but will occasionally poke one the other way against a shift that would seem to fit Porcello's description ... but, oddly, I'm not sure I've seen Rizzo poke one (intentionally) the other way in that sort of situation.

What I have seen a couple of times this year was teams shifted against Addison Russell with a man on 2nd and Russell poking a hard grounder the other way. Hopefully that's more Russell having a better approach overall but if it's just "I'll take a shot against the shift now and then with men on base" I'm fine with that too.

But of course, general agreement with the point that there's a difference between strategy and tactics and that there are going to be scenarios where the shift is the wrong tactic even if it's the right strategy. If the nerds aren't helping the manager make better tactical decisions, that is indeed on the nerds. Still, best to avoid all that thinking and just strike the guy out.

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