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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Moneyball 2.0: The New, Team-Oriented Study of Baseball

At the risk of relying on a buzzword, what managers are looking for is synergy; that is, ways to make one and one equal three, to make Moss and Carter—spare parts—equal an All-Star. 

Oakland’s example illustrates that opportunities for a synergistic advantage can be found in unexpected places. Interaction doesn’t have to be on the field to boost a team: Oakland players reported their team chemistry to be worth a huge on-field advantage, and studies show touchy teams are bolstered by a “high-five effect.” Or, an advantage can come from the field itself.

To wit: The Athletics are the only remaining team to play in a dual-purpose stadium. They share the concrete Oakland Coliseum with the Oakland Raiders, and it shows; the field is shaped strangely, with far more foul ground than any other park. Moreover, it’s a homer-suppressing environment, with spacious dimensions and a marine climate that knocks the ball down. In other words, Oakland has the perfect environment for fly-ball pitchers to succeed: Their main worry, home runs, is mitigated, and they get extra outs because more popups are caught in play. The finishing touch? Management has surrounded these pitchers with excellent defenders in the outfield. The pitchers suit the stadium and the defenders match the pitchers.

Heinie Mantush (Krusty) Posted: May 15, 2014 at 02:56 PM | 31 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: sabrmetrics

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   1. AROM Posted: May 15, 2014 at 03:42 PM (#4707656)
The pitchers suit the stadium and the defenders match the pitchers.


This year their pitchers are better at home with a 2.75 ERA, but a 3.26 ERA on the road is pretty good too. I wish I could figure out their secret for getting dominant starting pitching regardless of location from whatever castoff they stick on the mound.
   2. madvillain Posted: May 15, 2014 at 04:00 PM (#4707686)
This is a really good summary of the state of sabermetrics but I'm not exactly convinced of the thesis -- that there is some utterly revolutionary "holistic" approach to team building emerging.

His major examples are 1) platoons, 2) chemistry, 3) stadium specific roster construction, all of which teams have used for decades. There isn't anything revolutionary about any of those ideas -- that they are gaining traction throughout baseball is more an indictment of lazy FOs now forced to improve their own methods than any sort of radically new approach.

Using WAR is still incredibly more important than finding a good platoon partner or pitcher that fits your park's fly ball tendencies. A team of 9 Mike Trouts is gonna win 120 games and a team of 9 Willie Bloomquists is gonna lose 100, at Coors Field or Old Comiskey or the Field of Dreams.

Yes there are gains to be made at the margins, but these are still of secondary importance to identifying guys that are good at baseball -- which WAR does a damn fine job of.
   3. BDC Posted: May 15, 2014 at 04:12 PM (#4707696)
ways to make one and one equal three, to make Moss and Carter—spare parts—equal an All-Star


Not to be nitpicky … oh, who am I kidding, this is BBTF … but the A's didn't achieve this with Chris Carter, right? Carter had a couple of strong months for them, and they managed to sell high in trading him, but it's not like they showed some kind of actual formative ability to develop him into a good player, or even part of a synergic-player.
   4. Fernigal McGunnigle has become a merry hat Posted: May 15, 2014 at 04:19 PM (#4707704)
I don't want to hijack, but I just discovered that BBRef now allows you to show player salaries in terms of their equivalent value in other years. This is sort of useless but also very awesome.

Thus far in his career, Brandon Moss has earned the equivalent of $313,701 in 1871 dollars.
   5. dr. scott Posted: May 15, 2014 at 04:22 PM (#4707705)
Best comment on the article...


When I was young, kids wanted to be ballplayers.

Now the fat little autistic slobs all want to be GMs.


Damn straight!
   6. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: May 15, 2014 at 04:25 PM (#4707708)
stadium specific roster construction, all of which teams have used for decades. There isn't anything revolutionary about any of those ideas


I think this not only is not new but it is in fact a terrible idea. The Red Sox for years tried to build a "Fenway" team and wound up with lead footed, right-handed sluggers and then got wiped out on the road.
   7. BDC Posted: May 15, 2014 at 04:28 PM (#4707711)
Brandon Moss has earned the equivalent of $313,701 in 1871 dollars

Man, if he'd asked for that in double eagles he'd be swimming in it right now.
   8. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: May 15, 2014 at 04:30 PM (#4707713)
The nation's pedants can probably find some creaks in the analogy, but I'm going to say it anyway:

Chris Carter is to Major League Baseball, circa 2014, what Lionel Asbo is to England.
   9. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: May 15, 2014 at 04:30 PM (#4707714)
At the risk of relying on a buzzword, what managers are looking for is synergy;


No, they were looking for synergy in about 2006. Now they're looking for Solutions.
   10. madvillain Posted: May 15, 2014 at 04:37 PM (#4707723)
No, they were looking for synergy in about 2006. Now they're looking for Solutions.


Using AGILE and SCRUM the doers are looking to create the next disruptive technology in order to leverage the Global Marketplace of Ideas.

/thomasfriedmanvoice
   11. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: May 15, 2014 at 04:41 PM (#4707728)
And of course this technology will drive innovation and grow productivity.
   12. MHS Posted: May 15, 2014 at 04:42 PM (#4707730)
Using WAR is still incredibly more important


I don't think using WAR is even close to important to buidling a good team.


Understanding what drives wins at the team level, and forcasting which players will do those things is really the primary two drivers, all though health might be a close third.

Most teams are now very good at the first. Back when moneyball was orginally written teams were not.

I'm not convinced teams have a skill at the second (forcasting performance) or third (forcasting or keeping) players healthy.

   13. madvillain Posted: May 15, 2014 at 04:50 PM (#4707736)
I don't think using WAR is even close to important to buidling a good team...Understanding what drives wins at the team level


Players that are good at baseball drive wins at the team level. What is a good stat for IDing such talent? WAR. I understand that WAR looks backwards, not forward, and projection remains a huge uncertainty, but as a single measure of value WAR is excellent.

   14. PreservedFish Posted: May 15, 2014 at 05:04 PM (#4707740)
I don't think that WAR, the way that we use it, is useful for teams. Specifically I don't believe that the hypothetical replacement level player has much utility. But I am sure that teams have their own value systems that basically mirror WAR - they may have sliding or interchangeable baselines, they may have entirely different fielding estimates, they may use something other than wins as a yardstick - not WAR, but a similar type of thing.
   15. AROM Posted: May 15, 2014 at 05:12 PM (#4707749)
Using WAR is still incredibly more important than finding a good platoon partner or pitcher that fits your park's fly ball tendencies. A team of 9 Mike Trouts is gonna win 120 games and a team of 9 Willie Bloomquists is gonna lose 100, at Coors Field or Old Comiskey or the Field of Dreams.


WAR has it's place when it comes to valuing players or making the choice of which players to target. How much is an open question. I don't see the example above as relevant though. You don't need it to know that Mike Trout is good and if you have this fish, play him as much as possible. There probably won't be another Mike Trout to come along until this Trout is long retired, let alone 9 of them.
   16. valuearbitrageur Posted: May 15, 2014 at 05:20 PM (#4707754)
a team of 9 Willie Bloomquists is gonna lose 100


But what about the next 40 games?
   17. madvillain Posted: May 15, 2014 at 05:24 PM (#4707756)
I don't see the example above as relevant though. You don't need it to know that Mike Trout is good and if you have this fish, play him as much as possible. There probably won't be another Mike Trout to come along until this Trout is long retired, let alone 9 of them


It was an example to illustrate not anything about WAR but that finding good players is incredibly more important than "synergy" or "aligning them to your park" or "these guys get along great". I laughed KT at your post, oh Willie.

Thread is drifting, but without WAR and sabermetrics pretty much everyone would think Triple Crown Winner Miguel Cabrera was the best player in baseball. Thanks to WAR, we can quickly see that's not the case. Now that we can quantify contributions in the field and basepaths better we have a much better understanding of how those contribute to wins and quality of player.
   18. dr. scott Posted: May 15, 2014 at 05:31 PM (#4707763)
MV, I think the article pretty much agrees with you, but states that "now that everyone knows player valuation, what is the next place to gain an edge". By definition those edges will be smaller than the edge from the first wave of understanding. you are correct these next steps are not moving the needle as much, but they are still the next steps to gain an edge...
   19. Tom Nawrocki Posted: May 15, 2014 at 05:36 PM (#4707767)
Thread is drifting, but without WAR and sabermetrics pretty much everyone would think Triple Crown Winner Miguel Cabrera was the best player in baseball. Thanks to WAR, we can quickly see that's not the case.


That may be true, but how is it relevant to building a team? So we know Mike Trout's WAR is higher than Miguel Cabrera's - if I'm a GM, why would I care? It's not like GMs are in a fantasy auction, where they need to make a decision on one player over the other.
   20. Kiko Sakata Posted: May 15, 2014 at 05:55 PM (#4707782)
That may be true, but how is it relevant to building a team? So we know Mike Trout's WAR is higher than Miguel Cabrera's - if I'm a GM, why would I care? It's not like GMs are in a fantasy auction, where they need to make a decision on one player over the other.


GMs build teams by making decisions on one player over the other all the time. Do I offer a larger free-agent contract to Bill Nicholson or Elmer Valo to play LF? I have outstanding trade offers for either Emil Verban or Eddie Pellagrini to play 2B: which one do I take?
   21. McCoy Posted: May 15, 2014 at 06:15 PM (#4707791)
GMs build teams by making decisions on one player over the other all the time. Do I offer a larger free-agent contract to Bill Nicholson or Elmer Valo to play LF? I have outstanding trade offers for either Emil Verban or Eddie Pellagrini to play 2B: which one do I take?


If a GM is using WAR for this the team needs to get a new GM.
   22. Kiko Sakata Posted: May 15, 2014 at 06:29 PM (#4707796)
If a GM is using WAR for this the team needs to get a new GM.


I think you're reading #2 too literally. I think all he means by "using WAR" is that the most important step is deciding if Player A is a better baseball player than Player B. Compared to that, which hand he hits with and how his specific skill set translate to a specific home ballpark are better thought of as tie-breakers. The GM need not literally go to Baseball-Reference and compare career WAR of players, but he damn well better have a way to determine which player is better.
   23. Walt Davis Posted: May 15, 2014 at 06:33 PM (#4707798)
finding good players is incredibly more important than "synergy" or "aligning them to your park" or "these guys get along great".

But WAR is not particularly useful for team building. WAR will identify good players sure. But almost all of those good players are under contract to other teams and not available to you or only available in exchange for tens of millions of dollars or in exchange for talent (potential or realized).

Knowing the WAR of Starlin Castro much less Mike Trout does nothing to help the A's build a winning team. A projection of the future WAR of the currently struggling Baez who's probably blocked at SS might help the A's build a winning team -- although there you're still talking about information that everybody has, i.e. Baez is a top prospect. It's not just that WAR is backward-looking, it's that it's only available for current major leaguers and, in any given offseason/trading period, you only need to know the WAR of maybe 50 guys (and it's right there on a public website).

WAR can be helpful for identifying holes on your current roster. It might help you identify a Craig Gentry if you believe in WAR/PA type measures.

The A's have revived platooning -- something that's been sitting there forever -- and by doing so have avoided the dreaded replacement level player. They also seem to be employing a strategy that reminds me of the way Cox and Mazzone often built their bullpens. The Braves rarely had stars in their pen -- Smoltz being an injury/health exception -- it was full of kids and castoffs. And I noticed an interesting pattern although I can't guarantee it holds up. Anyway, they seemed to give a guy a tryout for about 9 innings and if he stunk in those 9 innings, they'd boot him and dive back in the dumpster. If he did well, he got another 9 and if he was still going well, they'd stick with him for the rest of the year.

That's the A's with Moss, etc. That's also Sabean with his numerous successful dumpster dives -- hey, somebody left a decent ML player out on the curb, I could use one of them.

You have to get lucky of course. The A's picked up Donaldson back in 2008. There was nothing particularly inspiring in his minors track record from ages 22 to 25.

Coco Crisp -- damn fine player and one I got very wrong but I doubt anybody in Oakland expected him to still be such a great combination of quality and price and still be in Oakland. Admittedly Crisp is an example where WAR dould have helped a team in acquiring talent -- it's absurd, guy regularly turns out 3-4 WAR seasons and he's still paid only $7 M a year by a low-revenue team. the recent 2-year extension may not have been the greatest idea (Rfield is down on Crisp this year) but they've gotten great value out of they guy.
   24. madvillain Posted: May 15, 2014 at 09:38 PM (#4707872)
I think you're reading #2 too literally. I think all he means by "using WAR" is that the most important step is deciding if Player A is a better baseball player than Player B. Compared to that, which hand he hits with and how his specific skill set translate to a specific home ballpark are better thought of as tie-breakers. The GM need not literally go to Baseball-Reference and compare career WAR of players, but he damn well better have a way to determine which player is better.


Thanks, it's amazing what people read into things sometimes. I'm not arguing that GMs should print out a sheet of the season's WAR leaders and then profit. If Rick Hahn, a well known new school GM, had argued that Jose Abreu broke the Davenport Translations and that's why the Sox should sign him (without actually seeing him play in person) well I'd question his sanity. You succinctly rephrased my point.

MV, I think the article pretty much agrees with you, but states that "now that everyone knows player valuation, what is the next place to gain an edge". By definition those edges will be smaller than the edge from the first wave of understanding. you are correct these next steps are not moving the needle as much, but they are still the next steps to gain an edge...


I agree, but nobody wants to read about boring stuff like that so the editor on the piece probably wanted it juiced up a bit.
   25. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: May 15, 2014 at 09:57 PM (#4707881)
Thread is drifting, but without WAR and sabermetrics pretty much everyone would think Triple Crown Winner Miguel Cabrera was the best player in baseball. Thanks to WAR, we can quickly see that's not the case.


I think this is a serious overbid. A lot of baseball people would know that a guy who plays a really good centerfield and runs the bases very well is better than a slightly better hitter who plays a spotty third base and can't run, with or without advanced metrics. WAR is nice in that it gives us a number to quantify any edge, but it's not as if baseball people were completely ignorant of the defensive spectrum or the value in a glove or good wheels until the saber revolution.
   26. McCoy Posted: May 15, 2014 at 10:47 PM (#4707904)
Thanks, it's amazing what people read into things sometimes. I'm not arguing that GMs should print out a sheet of the season's WAR leaders and then profit. If Rick Hahn, a well known new school GM, had argued that Jose Abreu broke the Davenport Translations and that's why the Sox should sign him (without actually seeing him play in person) well I'd question his sanity. You succinctly rephrased my point.

And his rebuttal to my point completely missed my point by being what he accused me of being. A GM doesn't need WAR or anything close to it to make baseball decisions nor as Walt pointed out should he be using that stuff for almost all of his decisions. WAR is for internet geeks and baseball fans and it is close to useless for people who work within baseball.
   27. bjhanke Posted: May 15, 2014 at 11:21 PM (#4707917)
The Oakland ballpark is why I am so insistent that Mark McGwire's homer numbers are legit. Yes, he took steroids, in some quantity at some time. He's admitted this. But he was playing in Oakland. I have VERY serious doubts that the steroids gave him any more boost than the ballpark cost him. When he finally did move to a neutral ballpark (Busch Stadium had its fences pulled in after Whitey Herzog left), he hit 70 homers. I ran projections, starting with 1987, which The Sainted Jose Canseco specifically EXcludes 1987 as a steroid year (page 7 in the book, not exactly hard to find). Just based on those projections, with no steroids involved, I estimated something like 73 taters in 1998. If steroids had any serious effect, Mac might have hit 80. - Brock Hanke
   28. theboyqueen Posted: May 16, 2014 at 01:41 AM (#4707957)
My favorite stat about the A's this year is their starting rotation (which has been probably the best in MLB this year) has a TOTAL payroll of about 13 million, and that's with Scott Kazmir making 11 million.
   29. Bhaakon Posted: May 16, 2014 at 05:14 AM (#4707974)

When I was young, kids wanted to be ballplayers.

Now the fat little autistic slobs all want to be GMs.


The things have gone with youth athletics, you're pretty much screwed if you aren't getting some special coaching or other before you're even old enough to have career aspirations.
   30. Tom Nawrocki Posted: May 16, 2014 at 10:20 AM (#4708044)
Do I offer a larger free-agent contract to Bill Nicholson or Elmer Valo to play LF?


Let's follow that thought a little more closely. Let's say it's the 1949-50 off-season, both Nicholson and Valo are free agents, and your team needs a left fielder. Nicholson is coming off a 1.9 WAR season in 1949, after 3.5 each of the previous two years. Valo is coming off a 4.3 WAR season, after a 2.8 in each of the previous two years.

So that tells us what exactly? Nicholson looks worse now, but he was also higher for two of the three seasons. Was his drop in 1949 an aberration? Will he be able to come back to his previous level in 1950? Was Valo's 1949 a career year? WAR doesn't tell us any of this. You need to look at player ages, playing time, overall health, which skills are declining or holding up, things that WAR doesn't begin to hint it.

At the same time, you don't need WAR to tell you that Valo was better in 1949. He played in 150 games and hit .283/.400/.406, while Nicholson played 98 games and hit .234/.344/.391. In the triple crown stats that people would have looked at back then, Valo hit .283/5/85 while Nicholson hit .234/11/40. Every GM in the game could have told you that Valo had a better 1949, WAR or no WAR.

So how exactly would a knowledge of WAR inform my decision of which player to choose?
   31. Walt Davis Posted: May 16, 2014 at 07:04 PM (#4708496)
Back then, WAR might have helped you. "Swish" was a strikeout machine -- why, the man once struck out more than 90 times in one season! That sort of hitter was generally underappreciated in their time, WAR would have helped teams look past that and see his value. You might get Nicholson cheap.

Meanwhile Valo was a walking machine (what a f'd up era that was) -- 101/16 BB/K ratio. But the man was lucky to get 120 hits in a season, how valuable could he be?

If MV's point was that WAR helped open our eyes and gave us some numbers to value a player's overall contribution then fine.

(The restatement that a GM's #1 job is telling if player A is better than player B is ... an unexciting place to start a conversation. But the counterpoint is that, outside of the Trouts and the Yunis, that's not easy and maybe not even feasible. It is about selecting among a pool of fairly indistinguishable players. Or maybe 2 pools -- the 1 to 3 WAR crowd and the replacement level crowd. Basically, in an absolute baseball sense, it's not clear who to choose among Gentry, Bourjos, Bradley, Hamilton or Stubbs. Or Cain, Eaton, Pollock, Maybin, de Aza, etc.

That's where you get into handedness, fit to park, offense vs. defense, how they fit into your particular context.

It's great to see Kazmir doing well. Pretty amazing story.

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