Saturday, September 25, 2004

Jeff talked a little bit about being a “stathead” yesterday and how closed minded individuals often find it easier to chastise and ridicule rather than try to comprehend a different point of view. I’m from a similar mold, the new school baseball mold if you want to label it. I value statistical analysis and scouting practices to evaluate talent, but statistical analysis provides a much more quantitative/objective view of a player and their trends and abilities. I often don’t do much statistical analysis on this site, primarily because this is Jeff’s blog and as many of the faithful readers know, he loves statistical analysis. So I take a backseat and let him talk numbers and I balance it out with some scouting reports and various other analytical tools. In a lot of ways, I think of it like Fox News (Jeff's note: except we're good), fair and balanced, but without the right wing tendencies.

Scouting practices are extremely subjective in nature, as they depend on one’s personal accounts of a player’s ability to play the game of baseball. A rational thinker will immediately see the fundamental problem with this procedure, a procedure that for years stood as the foundation, frame and roof (for lack of a better comparison) of how teams constructed their rosters. For instance, take the following paraphrased minor league scouting report for Player A:

Scouting Report #1: Possess a good arm and plays center field aggressively, above average speed, plays CF well and can cover a lot of ground, good batters eye with a line drive stroke that can develop into gap power, good fundamental knowledge of the game.

Scouting Report #2: Possess a weak arm, marginal outfielder but compensates for bad routes with his tremendous speed, slap hitter with very minimal power, marginal batters eye.

Two different scouting reports on the same player and two very different opinions of Player A and his abilities. Scouting Report #1 leaves the impression that Player A is an above average defensive CF with a good arm, decent speed and good presence at the plate. Scouting Report #2 leaves the impression that Player A is a below average CF with great speed and a poor presence at the plate. Which one is more accurate? Obviously one scout is more impressed with his abilities than the other scout. The truth? Player A actually falls in between the two scouting reports. He is an average OF at best with a below average arm with good speed with a line drive/slap hitting stroke. In case you haven’t already guessed, Player A is none other than Randy Winn.

Stats have been around for years in the game of baseball, but there have been vast changes in the ways these stats are utilized and computed in the past 10 years. Statistical analysis is a revolutionary new development in the game of baseball but like most new ideas, has been met with great reluctance and skepticism. Enter the debate between old baseball and new baseball. Unlike scouting reports which are purely subjective in their points of view, statistical analysis is objective. In a very primitive example, I can figure out that Ichiro has created 127.6 runs this season for the Mariners this year (TB * OBP). Anyone else looking at the same stats can then come up with the same result. Statistics take the guessing out of player evaluation, as with a large enough sample size it becomes easier to create a mean and/or median of a players performance over a period of time.

Personally, I value both statistical analysis and scouting. They both serve critical aspects in evaluating talent in baseball. For instance, you have to use sound scouting practices when drafting and signing undrafted free agents. Statistical analysis comes into to play more when evaluating minor league players and major league talent, as it shows how players have progresses/regressed in the minor leagues against tougher competition and it proves a valuable utensil in evaluating major league talent and comparing them with other players with their skill set.

Couple Quick Notes:
~Kendry Morales probably won’t find a new home until the end of the playoffs. The scouting reports coming out of PR are more encouraging than they were a few weeks ago, but he is still a player that should probably be avoided, especially with the Yankees entering into the mix of interested teams.
~Miguel Olivo may be playing himself out of a definite role for 2005. Olivo who is blessed with unbelievable skills and talents (see above text) has under produced at the plate and behind it since joining the M’s (.197/.258/.388). Jeremy Reed however, may be playing himself onto the 2005 roster with his play as of late (.371/.421/.461).
~The M’s figure to be extremely active in the free agent market this winter, but don’t forget about the trade market. Some interesting names that could possibly be made available include Cliff Floyd, Sean Burroughs, Paul Konerko, Carlos Lee, A.J. Burnett and Alfonso Soriano.
~As most know, I don’t completely blame Bavasi or Melvin for the horrendous season, although they hand their hands in this mess. In yesterdays PI, John Hickey supported my belief regarding Bavasi having his hands tied this off-season:

…. Before he left, the club had organizational meetings at which a strategy for the offseason was mapped out. It was a strategy that new general manager Bill Bavasi, not knowing the Mariners' personnel well, had to buy into. It was a strategy that, curiously, decided the Mariners, the oldest team in the league, were somehow not quite old enough.

This strategy changed with the trading of Freddy and release of Olerud and Aurilia, not to forget Jarvis. Bavasi might not be one of baseball’s best minds, but he isn’t Dave Littlefield either. This off-season should be the real definition of Bavasi’s worth as GM of the Mariners.

M's still two games back of the Royals for the second worst record in baseball.

Friday, September 24, 2004

I'm a stathead. Ordinarily I don't try to make a point of it, because I like to think that I have a pretty good understanding of the ideal blend between analytical metrics and traditional scouting, but nevertheless, people always seem to notice. Sometimes they're quite open-minded, which leads to the occasional enjoyable, enlightened conversation, but more often than not the other party is too stubborn to consider the merits of such things as VORP or EqA. As such, I find myself on the receiving end of such remarks as "Time to change your pocket protector" and "Get your nose out of the spreadsheet and watch a game" quite frequently. That's where the conversation usually ends, because they can never seem to understand that watching games and analyzing them aren't mutually exclusive.

...besides, I like spreadsheets, because Excel provides some useful tools that allow me to take an in-depth look at a group of numbers. Which is precisely what I've been doing this afternoon.

Nate Silver, one of the masterminds behind the PECOTA system, served up a piece today discussing Ichiro!'s batting average on balls in play (BABIP), and - in essence - how he is so thoroughly unlike any other player in baseball today. Hitters who put a lot of balls in play exhibit inordinately low BABIP percentages; Ichiro puts more balls in play than all but eight players in baseball, and turns them into hits at a greater rate than everyone but Ivan Rodriguez and Jim Edmonds.

Coming into tonight's game, Ichiro's .401 BABIP was 19% higher than his 2003 figure and 10% better than his previous career high. Given that his numbers had decreased for each of the past two seasons, many people are inclined to suggest that Ichiro's performance so far this year has been pretty flukish - a logical conclusion, considering the fluctuating nature of year-to-year singles rates (the main pillar of Ichiro's offensive arsenal). However, if you dig a little deeper, you notice something interesting:

2001 2.63 .361
2002 2.48 .342
2003 1.77 .326
2004 3.32 .401

Put them in order, and you notice a trend: the more often Ichiro puts a ball on the ground, the more often he reaches base. Indeed, plotting the data and adding the best-fit trendline reveals an R value of 0.96 - almost a perfect linear correlation between Ichiro's BABIP and his groundball/flyball ratio.

That isn't it, either. Check out this chart:

2001 2.63 .350 .295 61.6
2002 2.48 .321 .289 44.6
2003 1.77 .312 .276 39.1
2004 3.32 .374 .307 77.2

Ichiro's batting average, equivalent average, and VORP all show direct correlations with his groundball-to-flyball ratio (I'll spare you the R values; suffice to say, EqA shows the most linear relationship). By applying more common sense than mathematics, we may thus infer that any of these four statistics has a close linear relationship with each of the other three.

So what we've got, then, is the fact that Ichiro's offensive value is correlated with his groundball rate. It makes sense: Ichiro isn't a particularly powerful guy, so he flies out more often when he starts getting a little too much air under the ball. His game is putting the ball on the ground and - if it doesn't find a hole - beating out the throw.

...and that's what it seems like he's been doing all year - beating out weak grounders for infield singles. Actually, though, this isn't entirely true; while Ichiro still has one of the highest infield singles rates in baseball (if not the highest), he's in the midst of a decline:

Year Inf.1b Groundballs Inf.1b/GB(%)
2001 63 379 16.6
2002 53 325 16.3
2003 45 307 14.7
2004 54 378 14.3

Ichiro is turning fewer and fewer groundballs into infield singles, a trend that's been developing since his rookie year (maybe there's something to that 'declining footspeed' argument after all). He's actually contributed six fewer infield singles this year than you'd expect, given his 2001-2003 average rate.

What we see is that there is only a very loose correlation between Ichiro's singles rate and his infield singles rate, which forces us to split the sample into two groups: Infield Singles (Inf.1b) and Outfield Singles (Out.1b). Chart it:

Year BA Inf.1b/AB(%) Out.1b/AB(%)
2001 .350 9.1 18.6
2002 .321 8.2 17.3
2003 .312 6.6 17.2
2004 .374 8.2 23.8

There is a much stronger relationship between Ichiro's outfield singles rate and his batting average (R = 0.92) than between his infield singles rate and his batting average (R = 0.60). Put another way, Ichiro's extraordinary batting average this season isn't due to a bunch of infield singles; rather, he's hitting .374 because so many of the balls he puts in play are finding the outfield grass.

Let's review the pertinent information here:

  • Ichiro is collecting hits at the highest rate of his career

  • Ichiro is putting the ball on the ground at the highest rate of his career

  • Ichiro is turning those groundballs into infield hits at the lowest rate of his career

So, one of three things is happening:

  • 1) Ichiro is turning a greater proportion of his fly balls into hits

  • 2) Ichiro is hitting the ball very hard, giving fielders little time to react

  • 3) Ichiro's groundballs are finding holes in the infield more than they ever have

There's no real easy way to consider #1 without scrolling through tape from each of his at bats over the last four years and jotting down the results. However, we can take a shortcut: a bunch of fly balls falling in for hits will probably be reflected by an increased extra-base hit rate, which isn't the case. Ichiro is actually collecting extra-base hits at the lowest rate of his career, which would suggest that his fly balls are being caught as much, if not *more* often than they have been in the past.

The Hardball Times helps us out with #2, as they record how often a player hits the ball hard and plot the data as Line Drive Percentage (LD%). Ichiro is hitting line drives in 17.5% of his plate appearances - two-tenths of a point below the league-average figure. That percentage places him around such players as Jermaine Dye, Scott Hatteberg, Matt LeCroy, and Abraham Nunez (among a host of others), all of whom have significantly more power than Ichiro.

However, you also have to consider that Ichiro puts the ball in play more than nearly every other baseball player - 83.6% of the time. Now read this carefully, because it's hard to phrase very clearly:

Ichiro hits a line drive 21% of the time that he puts the ball in play.

Coming into tonight, Ichiro had 125 line drives on the season, and had put the ball in play 596 times. 125/596 = 21%. Compare this to, say, Jermaine Dye, who has 96 line drives while putting the ball in play 355 times - that's a 27% line drive percentage. Ichiro compares much more favorably to Alex Sanchez, who hits line drives 22% of the time he puts the ball in play. Needless to say, I don't think it would be prudent to suggest that Ichiro is smashing the ball too hard, too consistently for the fielders to play the ball. that leaves us with #3, that Ichiro is hitting a bunch of seeing-eye singles - that he's ultimately been the beneficiary of good luck for an extended stretch of the season. This is the option believed to be true by the majority of observers, so if this lengthy study has accomplished anything, it has been to lend support to the prevailing assumption. Not that this should serve to lessen the significance of Ichiro's accomplishments so far, because it's impossible to "luck" one's way to a .370 batting average, and because a player consistently getting good bounces for the duration of an entire second half of a season is rarely seen. Rather, what I'm trying to say is that this is the kind of success that is unlikely to continue into future seasons, so we should all enjoy it while it lasts.

And hey, he's added two more hits to his season total as I've typed this, so at least the good luck won't be ending tonight.
Forget Ichiro; this year's MVP hardly qualifies as a starter.

That's right, folks, put your hands together for Chone Figgins!

John Kruk's selection has a lower VORP than such household names as Julio Lugo, Omar Infante, and Tony Womack, and is the proud owner of a distinctly below-average line for an AL third baseman (where he gets the most playing time). Kruk attempts to justify his pick by claiming:

I know about Bonds and Pujols and all those guys. But they show up to the ballpark every day knowing they're going to play and where they're going to hit in the order. Not Chone. He has to take a few grounders all over the field, and then find some time to hit.

By becoming a jack-of-all-trades, Chone has been able to master exactly none of them, spraying grounders around the infield while struggling to become a plus defensive player at any position.

Brad Lidge is also, apparently, the pitcher of the year, while David Eckstein makes the most out of nothing.

This man is a professional writer.

If I had my way, current and former players/managers would never be able to express their opinions to the public.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Caught up in the midst of Ichiro! Fever, I came across a very interesting article from early 2002, a Tom Tippett piece analyzing the positive contributions of Ichiro!'s speed that announcers are always so quick to point out despite having minimal knowledge of the quantitative benefit. His eventual conclusion:

All things considered, offensive metrics like Runs Created probably do understate Ichiro's value by a few runs. (OPS, on the other hand, doesn't include steals at all, so it can understate the value of someone like Ichiro by a larger amount.)

That's good to know, but there doesn't appear to be any evidence to suggest that those measures are dramatically understating Ichiro's value, or that of any other speedster, as an offensive player.

I urge you to read through the article (it's not *that* long), if only because it measures speed in ways that you didn't think people recorded.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Ichiro now has hits in eight consecutive at bats, but before you start thinking that he's about to set another record, think again; he's still four hits away from tying Walt Dropo and Mike "Pinky" Higgins.

You may remember that Bernie Williams strung together 11 consecutive hits a few years ago, until he was retired by Ryan Franklin.
Will Carroll delivers some more bad news (when's the last time the Mariners had some *good* news regarding team health?).

Word from Seattle looks bleak for Edgar Martinez. His toe may not be broken, but my sources say he may not make it back in time to get the goodbye he deserves. Derek, raise a glass to Edgar for me.

That's pretty much the last thing any of us wants to hear right now.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

We've reached that point in the season at which everyone's numbers provide a pretty good indication of how they performed this year - that is to say, final statistics aren't going to change very much from where they are now. As such, we may begin to assess the 2004 campaigns of, well, anyone we want, discussing who has met our expectations, who hasn't, and why this has been the case. It's too late to pretend that Bret Boone is just about to catch fire, that Clint Nageotte's going to string together a handful of good starts to put him on the ROY ballot, or that Raul Ibanez will become anything more - or less - than a league-average left fielder. Some players may already be, for all intents and purposes, done participating in the regular season, be it because the team has already locked up first place, or because a cellar dweller wants to get an AAA outfielder some playing time.

So where does that leave us?

Truthfully speaking, there aren't very many Mariners who haven't already been closely scrutinized by several outlets through the summer - a side-effect of having such an active, vibrant blogosphere. But one name in particular seems to have eschewed analytical dissection for most of the year, despite chasing a fairly well-known record for the greater part of the season. That name, as you may have guessed, is Jamie Moyer's.

Until keeping Anaheim in the yard for seven innings in his last start, Moyer posed a legitimate threat to Bert Blyleven's 1986 record of 50 home runs allowed by a pitcher in a single season. Moyer's still guaranteed a place in the top-10 of the illustrious leaderboard, with his 41 longballs matching Rick Helling, Phil Niekro, and Robin Roberts for seventh on the all-time list. Seattle fans, accustomed to Jamie's crafty and, more importantly, successful style of pitching, have been waiting all year for the octogenarian southpaw to pick it up and string together four or five really good starts, as reassurance that he can run on fumes for another season.

It hasn't happened.

Balls left over the plate have been pounded more often than years past, it seems, and people are beginning to wonder if Moyer's finally reached the end. Interjections that Jamie "just isn't getting the calls off the plate like he usually does" pour in from the faithful, but others wonder if Jamie has lost his pinpoint command, forced to cross back over that fine line that had separated his success from absolute disaster.

What better way to analyze a pitcher than by making a chart?

2000 678 25.5 7.8 14.5 3.2 6.3 9.6 .301
2001 851 22.0 5.2 14.0 2.8 4.3 7.2 .249
2002 931 21.3 5.4 15.8 3.0 3.5 6.6 .244
2003 897 22.2 7.4 14.4 2.1 4.5 6.6 .267
’01-‘03 2679 21.8 6.0 14.7 2.7 4.1 6.8 .253
2004 813 23.7 7.3 13.7 5.0 3.4 8.5 .254

The first thing you notice from the table is that Moyer's conventional peripherals in 2004 aren't wildly different from the rest. However, there are small differences that suggest a gradual decline: his strikeouts are down a full percentage point from where they were in 2001-2003 (used as a composite statistical example of Good Moyer), and his walks are up 22%. What that means is that, over a full season, Moyer's walking 10-12 more batters than usual, while striking out 8-9 fewer. Neither look much like anything to worry about - an extra walk and a missing strikeout every three starts or so - but they make for a 23% decline in K/BB ratio, which is fairly significant.

Many of us are quick to write off a decline in pitcher performance as being due, at least in part, to the worst defense the Mariners have put on the field in the last several years. However, at least with Moyer (I haven't looked at the rest of the staff), this doesn't seem to be the case, as his BABIP is right where it was from 2001-2003, and his doubles/triples are down - not at all what you'd expect, having watched Randy Winn run around in circles for much of the season.

So, with his defense remaining fairly stable, what we have are a few indications that Moyer's control has regressed from where it was during his good years. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out what happens when you combine an AAA repertoire with inconsistent command. Missing his spots has directly led to an increase in Moyer's hits and home runs allowed. Anyone who's ever played baseball knows that, when it comes to pitching and hitting, an inch here and there can make all the difference. Jamie spent his entire career in Seattle pounding the low-and-away corner, impeccably locating his pitches so that, even though they knew what was coming, batters couldn't do very much. All of a sudden, that same pitch is either dipping too low or catching too much of the plate, neither one of which is a desirable alternative.

A quick glance at his numbers show that Moyer is throwing the same amount of first-pitch strikes as he ever has; where he runs into trouble is when he falls behind in the count (.303/.375/.546 after throwing a first-pitch ball). Again, it doesn't require much imagination to get a pretty good idea of why this is taking place. When he needs to throw a strike, Moyer is forced to go to his fastball more than any of us would like, and when he can't consistently locate that fastball where he wants to, then bad things happen.

There are two things going on:

  • Moyer is allowing more hits than he used to

  • Those hits are going farther than they used to

Outs are turning into singles, singles into doubles, and doubles into home runs. Look at that 2B/3B column in the chart - Moyer's 2004 figure is the lowest percentage listed. Pitches that used to find the end of the bat are getting more of the sweet spot, and they're getting drilled over the fence as a result. There's a vocal minority out there that wants to compare Moyer's rough season with his brutal, injury-plagued 2000 campaign, but the similarities aren't there; that 5.49 ERA had a lot more to do with defense than anyone cared to think (which isn't to say that Moyer should be without blame).

Earlier in the year I swore never to suggest that Moyer's reached the end of the line, as he's developed a proven track record of bouncing back from rough stretches, but the problem with pitching on the edge is that, once age begins to deteriorate your abilities, it's almost impossible to get back to where you used to be. A guy like Randy Johnson can afford some age-related regression because his repertoire remains one of the best in the game, but Moyer's always been an ordinary southpaw with extraordinary command. Now that that's beginning to go, the thin buffer zone between success and failure has eroded. I wish Jamie the best of luck, should he decide to play out his contract by returning in 2005, but I am less than optimistic that we'll ever see the Moyer of old for more than a few games here and there.

Monday, September 20, 2004

When I read this article late last night, the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. My initial reaction was, "What the hell are they thinking? First Soriano. Then the talk of Nageotte being a middle reliever. Then this. What's next? Moving Felix to SS because he can throw hard?" Stephen at Mariner Wheelhouse covers this perspective of the article really well, complete with a bulging forehead vein.

But it's amazing what a good night sleep can do. I again passed over this article this morning at work and it didn't get me as upset as it had not 12 hours before. It is impossible to draw a clear idea of what Bavasi is actually talking about, especially from only two sentences. Dave at USS Mariner handles this perspective really well, so instead of echoing his sentiments, I'll direct you to his post.

All in all, I don't think Bavasi has any plans to move Madritsch into the closers role next season, at least not right now. I think that the quote regarding Madritsch "closer-like persona" is simply no more than a compliment, not his future plans for Bobby.
Quick post, while I have a little time:

Matt Tuiasosopo was rated the best prospect in the Arizona League by Baseball America. Daniel Santin came in eighth.

Subscribers can read the complete scouting reports on each player.