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Monday, January 11, 2010

MLB: New defensive stats starting to catch on

Dewan, Lichtman, Pinto and…Charley Kerfeld?

Doing it the old-fashioned way

Not everyone pays attention to these numbers, of course. While teams such as the Mariners, Red Sox and Detroit Tigers, who improved greatly on defense in 2009, peruse and subscribe to these stats, some teams still just won’t buy them—literally or figuratively.

“I think defensive statistics are the most unpredictable stats there are,” says Charley Kerfeld, a former big league reliever who now serves as a special assistant to Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr.

“And since I’ve been here, we don’t have an in-house stats guy and I kind of feel we never will. We’re not a statistics-driven organization by any means.

“I’m not against statistics. Everybody has their own way of doing things. But the Phillies believe in what our scouts see and what our eyes tell us and what our people tell us.”

...As far as the open market for players is concerned, Dewan says Boston’s recent splurge on expensive leather might jack up the value of defense even more.

“Now you have a big-market team doing it,” Dewan says. “Now it’s going to be adopted, no question. Teams are going to think, ‘If it works for Boston, it should work for us.’

“And that’s great to see.”

Repoz Posted: January 11, 2010 at 12:41 PM | 11 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: phillies, projections, red sox, sabermetrics

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. bjhanke Posted: January 11, 2010 at 01:51 PM (#3433776)
Back when I was publishing Big Bad Baseball Annuals, I did an analysis of the two Chicago ballparks, looking at the teams that had actually won titles in them. The winners in Old Comiskey were almost all offense-driven; those in Wrigley were almost all driven by defense (including pitching). That is, the winning teams were the ones that were built around the features that the home ballpark most suppressed. This effect, just based on superficial looking around that I did at the time, seems to hold up. Fenway is a hitters' park. Going for pitching and defense ought to help more than getting more bats (assuming that the defense guys aren't just middling while the bats are imposing). No, I have no "reason" why this happens. I could speculate, but I didn't really do the full-bore detail analysis that I'd have to do to be certain. Right now, I'm just tossing out the idea. - Brock Hanke
   2. Levi Stahl Posted: January 11, 2010 at 03:02 PM (#3433805)
I don't understand the "we don’t have an in-house stats guy and I kind of feel we never will" approach. I could understand having a stats guy and not taking his word by itself. I could understand having a stat guy and giving his opinion less weight than that of your coaches and scouts. But I don't understand wby on earth a team would think it was a good idea to cut off that avenue for understanding players entirely.
   3. Sean Forman Posted: January 11, 2010 at 03:33 PM (#3433820)
Sure, I would listen if the Phillies called.
   4. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: January 11, 2010 at 03:40 PM (#3433825)
says Charley Kerfeld, a former big league reliever who now serves as a special assistant to Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr.

Kerfeld would have among the LAST that I would have predicted would ever get a front office position.

And I think a lot of these "anti-stats" statements are just for public consumption and don't reflect the reality of how the team operates. For reasons I cannot fathom, its seems important to appear "old school".

(not to mention blue collar)
   5. tjm1 Posted: January 11, 2010 at 03:49 PM (#3433831)
Not everyone pays attention to these numbers, of course. While teams such as the Mariners, Red Sox and Detroit Tigers, who improved greatly on defense in 2009, peruse and subscribe to these stats, some teams still just won’t buy them—literally or figuratively.


Do they mean the 2009 off-season here? Off the top of my head, I would guess that no team worsened on defense by more from 2008 to 2009 than the Red Sox.

Back when I was publishing Big Bad Baseball Annuals, I did an analysis of the two Chicago ballparks, looking at the teams that had actually won titles in them. The winners in Old Comiskey were almost all offense-driven; those in Wrigley were almost all driven by defense (including pitching). That is, the winning teams were the ones that were built around the features that the home ballpark most suppressed. This effect, just based on superficial looking around that I did at the time, seems to hold up. Fenway is a hitters' park. Going for pitching and defense ought to help more than getting more bats (assuming that the defense guys aren't just middling while the bats are imposing). No, I have no "reason" why this happens. I could speculate, but I didn't really do the full-bore detail analysis that I'd have to do to be certain. Right now, I'm just tossing out the idea. - Brock Hanke


I would guess this is just a coincidence. There just aren't that many title winners between those two teams.I don't understand the "we don’t have an in-house stats guy and I kind of feel we never will" approach. I could understand having a stats guy and not taking his word by itself. I could understand having a stat guy and giving his opinion less weight than that of your coaches and scouts. But I don't understand wby on earth a team would think it was a good idea to cut off that avenue for understanding players entirely.

I don't understand the "we don’t have an in-house stats guy and I kind of feel we never will" approach. I could understand having a stats guy and not taking his word by itself. I could understand having a stat guy and giving his opinion less weight than that of your coaches and scouts. But I don't understand wby on earth a team would think it was a good idea to cut off that avenue for understanding players entirely.


Well, they might take the attitude that what can be learned from statistics reliably is something they can teach themselves, and that the cutting edge might be adding more noise than signal, but with some kind of "firmness" that could delude them into making bad decisions. They might even have a point. With defense, in particular, for a very long time after people started trying to address it with statistics, the "eyeball" test was more reliable than the statistics. It's only been about a decade, out of three of trying, where we've had some deserved confidence in statistics. It's been even a little bit less time since stats people realized that toolsy players with the same numbers as non-toolsy players in the minors were much better prospects. Scouts judging defense do something a lot more like UZR than like Joe Reporter saying Jeter looks good out there. They actually will watch hours of video on a player to see whether he gets a good break on the ball has range to his left and right, etc. They'll make some educated guess about whether a player's positioning is poor, so that he could improve a lot with better coaching. I can understand teams not wanting to have some other guy come in with one or two numbers.

Kerfield didn't say "We don't care about on base percentage or park effects." He just said he didn't see the need to pay someone to work for the team. There is a really good question to be asked about whether the teams that do hire stats people are getting good value for their money. We have no idea, because we don't know what they've figured out that isn't in the public domain.
   6. Tricky Dick Posted: January 11, 2010 at 03:53 PM (#3433834)
I recall seeing an anti-stats quote from Kerfield after the Phillies signed Pedro Martinez. I can't find it now, but I remember thinking "this guy really hates statistical analysis." As an Astros' fan, though, I always liked Kerfield, the cone head pitcher, who once included a demand for 37 boxes of orange jello in his contract.

By the way, has David Pinto quit publishing the PMR defensive results? Since his methodology is distinctly different from UZR and +/-, and I always liked comparing PMR results to other systems.
   7. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: January 11, 2010 at 04:08 PM (#3433841)
Not everyone pays attention to these numbers, of course. While teams such as the Mariners, Red Sox and Detroit Tigers, who improved greatly on defense in 2009, peruse and subscribe to these stats, some teams still just won’t buy them—literally or figuratively.


Do they mean the 2009 off-season here? Off the top of my head, I would guess that no team worsened on defense by more from 2008 to 2009 than the Red Sox.


It was clumsily worded by I read it as the Tigers being the team that improved greatly (though at least by DER they did not).
   8. fra paolo Posted: January 11, 2010 at 04:15 PM (#3433845)
That is, the winning teams were the ones that were built around the features that the home ballpark most suppressed. ...Fenway is a hitters' park.

What about something more complex, like Comerica? Is the Tigers' improvement down to defence? Or does it have something to do with getting all those hitters? It seems to have become a hitter's park in recent years. Does that have something to do with getting all those hitters? Or does it reflect changes in other ballparks?
   9. Der Komminsk-sar Posted: January 11, 2010 at 04:15 PM (#3433848)
Correct me if I'm wrong... Kerfeld made a name for himself finding diamonds in the rough as an indy manager turned affiliated scout (even turning down advancement opportunities out of a desire to stay close to home).
***
the winning teams were the ones that were built around the features that the home ballpark most suppressed
This is a commonly held belief, isn't it?
   10. RB in NYC (Now Semi-Retired from BBTF) Posted: January 11, 2010 at 04:20 PM (#3433854)
Charley Kerfeld
I only know this because I was watching the '86 NLCS on the MLB Network yesterday, isn't it Charlie Kerfeld?
   11. Mike Emeigh Posted: January 11, 2010 at 04:34 PM (#3433867)
I would guess this is just a coincidence.


Bill James did a study in the 1986 Abstract, focusing on teams that played in extreme parks, and concluded that those teams tended to accrue talent in opposition to the park - AKA The Devil's Theory of Park Effects. He pointed out that the teams that "succeeded" in those parks, however, were the ones that understood the park effects well enough to realize that a player with superficially good stats in the aspects that the park supported were not necessarily all that good.

-- MWE

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