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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Wired: Six Degrees of Nolan Ryan: Network Science Ranks Baseball Greats

Arguing over who’s the better player is as much a pastime as baseball itself.

Pedro Martinez or Sandy Koufax? Barry Bonds or Mickey Mantle? Of course it’s impossible to say. You can’t compare players from different eras. Heck, it’s hard enough to compare them between teams, in the same season.

But that doesn’t stop stat junkies from trying. They use equations only slightly less complex than credit derivatives formulas, and no more comprehensible to outsiders than the nose-tapping, ear-tugging, cap-pulling signals of a third base coach.

The latest entry to this field of Monte Carlo simulations and regression analyses and optimization algorithms was posted last Thursday in arXiv, an informal online repository of papers devoted to high-energy physics and self-organizing systems and other such knuckle-balling disciplines.

The study’s authors used network science to crunch the results of every single at-bat between 1954 and 2008 — and thanks to a baseball version of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” it’s possible to compare players who never faced each other.

There’s actually not much new here, from the description.  They start with “Runs Until End”, which is just probability added.  Then they take the values and do multiple recursions to adjust each matchup for the values of other matchups involving the principals.  Colin Wyers, Vinay Kumar and I were just last week talking in Primer IRC about this, and I mentioned Thorn and Palmer’s Hidden Game of Football included a wagering system proposal based on multiple recursion analysis, in 1988.

On top of not treading much new ground other than computational cycles used (of course, look at the source), the system doesn’t yet value “stolen bases, injuries…differences between ballparks” or defense.  If you’re using PA and have this kind of tech at hand, I don’t quite see the big problem including SB.  I don’t see what ‘injuries’ has much to do with anything at all.

Jeff K. Posted: August 05, 2009 at 02:52 AM | 10 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: baseball geeks, history, reviews, sabermetrics, special topics

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   1. Cyril Morong Posted: August 05, 2009 at 08:55 PM (#3281630)
Maybe they address this in the paper, but how much do we learn about who the best hitters were compared to more conventional analysis. For example, here are the top 14 hitters in OPS from 1954-2008 with 5000+ PAs

1 Barry Bonds 1.051
2 Albert Pujols 1.049
3 Manny Ramirez 1.004
4 Todd Helton 1.002
5 Mickey Mantle .996
6 Mark McGwire .982
7 Frank Thomas .974
8 Lance Berkman .973
9 Alex Rodriguez .967
10 Jim Thome .966
11 Larry Walker .965
12 Vladimir Guerrero .963
13 Chipper Jones .955
14 Willie Mays .949

All of the top 10 hitters the study identified are in the top 14 of OPS. I would like to see how many more wins a guy generates using their method than, say, based on OPS. I took a very quick look at the paper and I did not see this addressed. How much better or worse is Mantle, for example, based on their findings? Should we add 5 wins to what we already thought his WARP was? Take away 3?

I know that when I have looked at things like WPA vs. OPS, the correlations are very high. It seems like they are doing WPA but then adjusting everyone’s values based on strength of opposition using some kind of iterative method, like college football computer rankings.
   2. phredbird Posted: August 05, 2009 at 09:44 PM (#3281678)
interesting gap between 2 and 3, then how bunched 3-10 are. wonder if albert can keep it up.
   3. Cyril Morong Posted: August 05, 2009 at 10:11 PM (#3281708)

I tried to answer that at my blog in February. Here is the link:

   4. Cyril Morong Posted: August 05, 2009 at 10:27 PM (#3281727)
Here it is as a hot link

   5. _ Posted: August 05, 2009 at 10:46 PM (#3281745)
If Albert ages the same as Bonds, he should have no trouble keeping up, because he's already way ahead of him through the same age.
   6. Cyril Morong Posted: August 05, 2009 at 11:17 PM (#3281786)
Perhaps no one aged as well as Bonds. Bonds hitting improved quite a bit in his late 30s. That is very rare. So it would be incredible if Pujols did as well. Here is what I have written on Bonds aging

Bonds Aging vs. Aaron Aging

Bonds Greatest Feat Might Be Improvement

"Has Anyone Aged as Well As Barry Bonds?"
   7. _ Posted: August 05, 2009 at 11:20 PM (#3281793)
Even better than Champ Summers and Lee Lacy? Well I'll be.
   8. Cyril Morong Posted: August 06, 2009 at 12:00 AM (#3281854)
I don't know off hand about those two guys. I did that a couple of years ago and they might not have made the PA cutoffs I used. But I will look at them when I get a chance.
   9. _ Posted: August 06, 2009 at 12:03 AM (#3281859)
No, please don't look them up, unless you're really interested yourself. I was just joshing around. I appreciate the work you've done.
   10. Cyril Morong Posted: August 06, 2009 at 12:18 AM (#3281883)

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