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Saturday, March 21, 2020

JAWS and the 2020 bWAR Update, Part 1

Poor Ernie Lombardi. The heavyset and heavy-hitting Hall of Fame catcher, who owns two of the position’s eight batting titles, was the player hardest-hit by Baseball-Reference’s latest update to their version of Wins Above Replacement. B-Ref rolled out a whole series of adjustments, both to current players and long-retired ones, into one big release earlier this week, which it explained via a Twitter thread on Tuesday morning and expounded upon at the site. Thanks to additional play-by-play baserunning and caught stealing data, Lombardi, whose career spanned from 1931-47, saw his career WAR total drop from 46.8 to 39.5. Well, he didn’t actually see it, as he’s been dead since 1977, but you know what I mean.

B-Ref’s version of WAR is different from that of FanGraphs, of course, though you may have noticed that our site also updated its Defensive Runs Saved totals after Sports Info Solutions made major changes to its flagship stat, in part to account for defensive shifting. I’ll get to that aspect in a separate follow-up post, but for the moment my concern is how the B-Ref changes affect my JAWS system for Hall of Fame evaluations. The overall answer is “not a whole lot,” though individual player WAR and JAWS, and thus the standards at each position, have shifted a bit, creating a ripple effect throughout my system. With no new baseball for the foreseeable future, it’s worth taking an inventory of these changes, in part because they give us a chance to dig into some baseball history and provide a bit of an escape from our current realities.

Incidentally, the Hall of Fame itself closed indefinitely as of Sunday, March 15, and has already canceled its 2020 Hall of Fame Classic Weekend, which was scheduled for May 22-24. Among other things, that weekend was to feature a seven-inning legends game featuring Hall of Famers and former major leaguers and a “Night at the Museum” program. Induction Weekend, scheduled for July 24-27, is still on the calendar and will hopefully take place as planned, but right now, there are no guarantees. Given that the advanced ages of many Hall of Famers put them at the highest risk for COVID-19 infections, attendance among the game’s legends could be more sparse than usual.

Lombardi’s 7.3-WAR change was the largest of any position player in either direction, positive or negative (you can view the full spreadsheet here via Google Docs). His total is one of just five — from among 19,682 players in all dating back to the birth of the National Association in 1871 — that moved by at least four wins in either direction. Hall of Fame shortstop Arky Vaughan, whose 5.1-WAR jump was the third-highest swing, was one of a handful of other denizens of Cooperstown among the 43 position players whose career WARs changed by at least 2.5.

Some notes on the calibration of bWAR that just took place, and its meaning.


QLE Posted: March 21, 2020 at 02:18 AM | 7 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: hall of fame, jaws, jay jaffe, war

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   1. Walt Davis Posted: March 21, 2020 at 07:21 PM (#5932549)
Read the article for a full-ish list of players one is likely to care about. The big change for current players is that DRS has been updated (and the usual PF update). Donaldson down 4 WAR and, Correa up 3.6 WAR -- that's pretty huge for Correa who has only about 3.5 seasons worth of PA due to injuries. I don't recall what his earlier rating was but he's now a consistent +8 defender over a full season. This brings his DRS in line with his TZ but I don't know if there were changes to TZ as well. This pushes him up to a 6.5 WAR/650 player, a full win better than Lindor. To be fair, Correa has not produced at the level over the last two "seasons" so possibly the injuries have already diminished him.
   2. bbmck Posted: March 21, 2020 at 09:13 PM (#5932570)
Linked spreadsheet has all the changes, Donaldson's 2015 MVP season is one of the largest changes for position player WAR 8.5 to 7.1, 2014 is 7.5 to 6.9, 2018 1.2 to 0.7, 2013 7.7 to 7.2, 2017 5 to 4.6, 2016 7.6 to 7.2, rest of his seasons change by less than 0.1 although may visually change because of rounding. 320.1 IP in the field in 2018, losing ~5 runs of value is a really extreme change as well as ~14 runs in 1317 IP in the field in 2015.

2015 Mike Trout 9.35 so might have appeared as 9.3 or 9.4 depending on the next decimal place, now it's 9.62. Would at least 8 voters have placed Trout ahead if it was 9.6 vs 7.1 as opposed to 9.3 vs 8.5? Donaldson wins MVP 23-7 with one voter dropping Trout to 3rd, it seems pretty unlikely that 8+ voters would both consider bWAR an important factor for the top of their ballot and also be willing to flip a 0.8 or 0.9 gap but not a 2.5 gap. Some voters sure, but 8 out of 30 seems pretty unlikely.

Brett Lawrie was one of the previous largest changes, it seems strange that they apparently continued to make a large error with the Jays 3B at the same time as they discovered and corrected their evaluation of Lawrie.
   3. Walt Davis Posted: March 21, 2020 at 11:53 PM (#5932597)
If memory serves the original Lawrie error was made because Lawrie was going from 3B to short RF in the shift so he was getting massive value for out of zone plays. That was "corrected" by ignoring shifted plays (again as I recall).

The big change at DRS is that they have now separated out a "positioning" component along with range, arm and "air balls." For their purposes at least, they put positioning into a team defensive runs saved so the individual numbers are now relative to positioning (and maybe position, I don't know). So the big changes suggest that the Astros have done a lousy job of positioning Correa while the Jays did a terrific job of positioning Donaldson.

I find b-r's explanation confusing. (you may have to scroll down to find the right blog entry) Based on BIS's explanation, which b-r says they have adopted, there needs to be a team defense component separate from the individual player totals. I see that at the bottom of the team's fielding table there is a row for "runs saved by shifting" and "runs saved by non-shifting positioning." Angels gained 18 runs by shifting, lost 10 in other positioning. But then the blog talks about the Dodgers picking up 46 runs as a team -- I'm not clear how this happened. From the description at SIS, it didn't sound like the team totals changed at all, it's just that each individual player had their performance adjusted for positioning. I'm fine with the idea that if the SS is two steps too far to his right but still makes the play that the team gets negative credit while the player gets extra positive credit ... but how does the team get more credit than it did before? This is basically saying that SIS missed on 46 runs of Dodger defense in the old system.

Anyway, the b-r blog post notes that Semien and Chapman both gained enough that they passed Trout in WAR. Chapman is now at +34 runs saved last year. That's better than Brooks' best two seasons (TZ), better than Rolen's best (old school DRS I assume), better than Beltre's best (old school I think). That's believable in that Chapman is very fine but he's also credited with 30 last year. Brooks also had two seasons of 30+ but I'm going to start having doubts about the accuracy of this if Chapman keeps putting up those kind of numbers. Statcast puts him #2 in the league at +14 outs which is probably only 11-12 runs.
   4. Sunday silence Posted: March 23, 2020 at 10:38 AM (#5932762)
I presume SIS is the successor to BIS? just trying to tie up loose ends.
   5. Sunday silence Posted: March 23, 2020 at 11:12 AM (#5932770)
I'm going to start having doubts about the accuracy of this if Chapman keeps putting up those kind of number

I agree w/ your overall pt. that its hard to see where the difference in def runs saved. Arenado started 16 more DP than Chapman and they both had the same number of errors, yet Chapman gets 16 more rField.

But since when did you become so skeptical of these? I asked you a few months if you had any doubts about the two systems: TZ and DRS or whatever they're called. And you basically said you were agnostic about both, not withstanding the fact that the two systems often vary wildly on various players.

Cant wait to look up Hosmer's numbers
   6. Walt Davis Posted: March 23, 2020 at 05:34 PM (#5932914)
I am agnostic on them. Both TZ and DRS are high variance and they frequently disagree greatly with one another. It is reasonable to doubt extreme numbers from either system. My memory of that discussion was a claim that TZ didn't seem to produce the extreme numbers that DRS does and I provided several example where that wasn't the case.

In statistics, the key issues for a measure are bias and variance. To my knowledge, these are both "unbiased" at least in an overall sense -- it's possible that each gets it wrong for particular types of players (and not necessarily the same types) and they are probably both fairly accurate if viewed in buckets of excellent, above-average, average, below-average, poor. I have no doubt that Chapman is an excellent defender. I'm OK with the notion that he is on a par with, maybe even better than, Brooks, Rolen, Schmidt, Beltre. But in run terms, they both (seem to) have a lot of variance -- which might just be the true nature of defensive performance or is emblematic of a lot of measurement error. In the presence of a lot of measurement error, an individual extreme data item is likely the result of measurement error.

But nobody knows. I'm certainly not going to go to the trouble of developing an alternative method of measuring defense. I "defend" defensive stats in that these are smart people doing their best, who are trying to account for all the things they need to account for, it has simply been a nearly impossible measurement task. So in essence, I can't rule out that Chapman didn't save 34 runs this year, I can't guarantee that such a season is essentially impossible. I can note that he has two 30+ seasons to his credit and that seems to be the most of any 3B (although under different measurement methods) and it seems unlikely that he could be so much better than the other great defensive 3B that he would start racking up 30+ run seasons with regularity. Maybe statcast offers a way forward but their IF measure is brand new.

So I "doubt" Chapman saved 34 runs but I don't "know" that he didn't.
   7. Sunday silence Posted: March 24, 2020 at 12:08 PM (#5933094)
My memory of that discussion was a claim that TZ didn't seem to produce the extreme numbers that DRS does and I provided several example where that wasn't the case.

your memory is quite fine. The above is probably what much of my focus has been in these discussions.

they are probably both fairly accurate if viewed in buckets of excellent, above-average, average, below-average, poor. I have no doubt that Chapman is an excellent defender

But then why can't we use this as a basis on which to do further modeling? Instead of looking at individuals we establish what we think is the max for a great defender, a good defender, etc. Then we use what we have in terms of systems as well as eyeball accounts and say that Chapman and Arenado are great, lets give them a nominal +30 DRS; etc. etc.

To establish the first part I would look at a neutral sample, such as video of playoffs. Count the number of discretionary chances, the number of baserunners advanced on bad throws, positioning mistakes etc. THen establish e..g how many more fly balls does a great OF get to? For instance it seemed like Robles (IIRC) was good for 2 very good catches a week...Then extrapolate from there.

My guess is a great CF 25+ DRS
a great mid inf 35
3b? I would have said 20 DRS but the numbers above on Chapman are stunning. If a 3b can get 30 Id have to say SS can get somewhat more.

Any thoughts on these ideas?

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