Archive for April, 2004

The Amazing Julio Franco

Aaron Gleeman has a nice piece on one of my favorite players, Julio Franco, at The Hardball Times. Julio is just fun to watch. He’s got a unique stance, a unique swing, and he always wears a super-serious demeanor on his face during the game. We have all been marveling at how this 45-year old guy can still play in the majors. He’s got an OPS over .800 (mostly platooned) with about half of it in OBP.

I thought I would take a look at his aging pattern compared to his contemporaries. Using the aging model I estimated for all players since 1980 here, I compare Julio’s OPS plus by age for every season he had at least 300 ABs.

Julio is not just weird now, he’s always been odd. While most players peak in their late 20s, Julio was still finding his groove. And he had some of his best seasons after his 35th birthday. No wonder Andy Van Slyke thinks the guy is on steroids. I certainly DO NOT think Julio is on steroids, but it is interesting what an anomaly he is.

I’d also like to wish Julio a speedy recovery from whatever ear problem is keeping him from traveling with the Braves right now. We could use him.

Index of Sabermetric Studies

Dave of Talking Baseball suggests that I add a link to sabermetric studies available online. Good suggestion! Luckily for both of us, that index already exists thanks to Tangotiger. The Index of Primate Studies is the largest collection of online sabermetric studies that I know of. Plus, Tango has graciously provided links to the discussion threads of these studies from Baseball Primer.

I suspect there are some other links out there that I don’t know about, so please feel free to post them in the comments.

Update: Tangotiger writes to suggest James Fraser’s excellent sabermetric site. James is in the process of compiling a very inclusive list of sabermetric studies available online. So far it is a pretty impressive index. If the link does not work now, check it again later. It’s on Baseball Stuff, which might be affected by the Baseball Primer site upgrade taking place this weekend.

New Stats at The Hardball Times

The Hardball Times has posted some great new statistics for the 2004 season. I decided to take a look at how the Braves pitchers were doing with some of the stats, which are designed to isolate individual performance and externalities that exist in more common measures of performance. I separate the team into starters and relievers and report the Fielding Independent Pitching Runs (FIP) (developed by Tangotiger), Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP), and the Strike-out to walk ratio (K/BB). The first and last measures focus on pitcher performance excluding defense. BABIP shows how many balls in play become hits. Assuming pitchers have no effect over balls in play (which seems to be largely true) a low BABIP indicates good luck and a high BABIP indicates bad luck on balls put in play. To see more about isolating individual contributions to the joint product of defense see Futility Infielder’s excellent primer.

Thomson J. -0.6 1 0.305 3 2.48 1
Wright J. 0.3 2 0.268 2 1.00 3
Ortiz R. 0.63 3 0.324 4 1.93 2
Ramirez H. 0.71 4 0.219 1 0.59 5
Hampton M. 1.74 5 0.38 5 0.88 4

Cruz J. -0.79 1 0.276 6 1.75 4
Reitsma C. -0.09 2 0.257 4 8.88 2
Alfonseca A. 0.51 3 0.385 7 0.43 7
Gryboski K. 1.26 4 0.19 3 1.96 3
Nitkowski C. 2.02 5 0.167 1 0.83 6
Smoltz J. 2.47 6 0.182 2 10.00 1
Cunnane W. 5.05 7 0.269 5 1.64 5

What do I notice first? Well, John Thomson and Juan Cruz appear to be the Braves best starter and reliever. Russ Ortiz seems to be pitching better than he has looked. His K/BB is almost 2 and his BABIP is high. So, I expect Ortiz’s numbers to improve. Haracio Ramirez, on the other hand, appears to have gotten somewhat lucky. His FIP is not much different from Ortiz, but his BABIP indicates he has had some good luck on balls in play and his K/BB is the worst among the starters. Among the relievers Smoltz looks bad because of the three early HRs. He has gotten a bit lucky on balls in play, but his K/BB is actually undefined since he has not walked a single batter. I assigned him 10, which is equal to his Ks. Nitkowski has not only been bad on his own, but his BABIP is the lowest on the team. That means it could be even worse. Reitsma looks to be a good acquisition.

Anyway those are just some general observations and the season has just begun. I just wanted to hype the new stats on Hardball to say thanks. It is fast becoming one of my favorite sites.

Does Bobby Cox Read Sabernomics?

Well of course not, but I was happy to see Cox pick a batting order last night that put D-Wayne at the bottom and D-Ro at the top despite the platoon advantage favoring the former. As I suggested last week, Derosa is a better hitter which more than makes up for the platoon advantage. I was also happy to see D-Ro respond with a HR. I hope that when Chipper comes back Cox does not keep Derosa as the number two, bumping Andruw and JD further down the order. That would be a bad idea, but I have a feeling Bobby knows better than that.

Also Schuerholz finally relented and put Chipper on the DL, calling up Mike Hessman. It’s hard not to when Mike was just eating AAA pitchers for dinner. Although, I agree with Mac over at Braves Journal that Ryan Langerhans ought to be brought up. Like Hessman, he is playing great for Richmond. In addition he is a good left-handed outfielder. Eli Marrero has been a disaster so far with the bat, so either he or Wise will have to go if Langerhans keeps this up. The only reason I can figure that Langerhans is staying down is to ensure that he gets his at-bats. Once Chipper comes back Ryan will only get Darren Bragg at-bats, which is not a fun way to break into the league. Cleveland did the same with Jim Thome in 1993, which allowed me to be treated to a full summer of Thome and Sam Horn slugging it out for the Charlotte Knights. Manny Ramirez also made a short stop there. Of course, that Indians club was awful so there was no reason to bring Thome up. Though, I think the Braves could really use Langerhans now.

Research in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

There is an article that discusses my research with Doug Drinen on the effect of the DH on hit batsmen in today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Braves Notes

— Why does Bobby Cox bat Dewayne Wise second in the line-up? I will grant that this guy has played much better than I thought he would. There is no doubt that Wise is a fantastically talented individual, but hitting is not his strength. His OBP is equal to his BA, which is not a good sign when you hit .233. Why do you want to give this guy the at-bats of the two slot? I know the explanation is that Cox only does this against righties, but just because the guy is left-handed does not make him lexicographically better than all right-handed hitters against right-handed pitchers. The platoon effect just means opposite handedness improves the chance of success of an at-bat relative to each hitter’s ability. Cox’s strategy is akin to Monty Burns’s benching of Darryl Strawberry for Homer Simpson, except this isn’t funny. I would rather see a right-handed Mark DeRosa get an at-bat against righties than Wise.

— The Braves need to add another bat to their bench. Whether that means dropping a pitcher or putting someone on the DL, we cannot have Jesse Garcia pinch-hit like he did Wednesday night against the Reds. That is not why Jesse made the team. Or at least use Mike Hampton to pinch hit more often. I understand we don’t want to put Chipper on the DL when he might get healthy soon, but maybe Marerro’s tendonitis is flaring up. At least bring up Hessman who is tearing up AAA right now. Langerhans and Branyan are also options.

— I know a lot of people are soft on Mark DeRosa at third, but I think he is a very good option for the Braves right now. DeRo makes $725K, which is $25K less than the average third-baseman made in 2003. His OPS is about league average, and his 2003 ZR was about average for third-basemen. This means acquiring a better third-baseman from another club is going to require giving up more than $725K in salary or forgone prospects. For comparison, ex-Brave Wes Helms is making $2.25 million for the Brewers this year for about 20 OPS points and .05 ZR points above DeRo. I suspect if Schuerholz wanted to go that way he would have already done it. It’s not like DeRo is playing far below expectations. And what about the minors? In AA Marte looks like he is going to be good, but his day probably will not come soon unless he goes on a tear. In AAA former can’t miss prospect Betemit more likely to be demoted than promoted, which is sad. Of the problems the Braves have to deal with this season, I would say changing out the corner is far down on the list. As a fan I have to say I am pretty content with DeRo at third, and I’ll be rooting extra hard for him.

Gridiron Notes: Tillman, Clarett, and Manning

I will digress to talk football here for a moment.

First, my thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Pat Tillman, who was killed in Afghanistan on Thursday. Pat turned down a rather large contract with the Cardinals to join the Army after September 11. It was quite a noble thing to do. From the reports I am reading he was quite an interesting fellow who will be missed.

Second, I am sorry that Maurice Clarrett has been denied the option to play in the NFL, though I do not disagree with the court. What bugs me about this whole affair is how commentators have been grandstanding about how young kids are not ready for the NFL. What a bunch of bull. If Clarett is not ready then why does the NFL have to bar him from the draft? No team would take him if he is not ready. This is about the NFL protecting its state-subsidized and protected monopsony minor league known as NCAA football. I support all legislation to remove public support of the NCAA. This charade that the NCAA is about something other than extracting wealth from young talented atheletes is absurd.

Would you like some evidence that Eli Manning should be concerned about playing for the San Diego Chargers? How about the fact that GM AJ Smith was stupid enough to leak this information to the media before the draft! The first pick in the draft is as valuable as the expected production of the best player available. Even if you are not going to select the best player available, no one else has to know that. Now teams that are willing to trade for Manning know that SD bears a considerable amount of risk by drafting Manning. The suitors may now attempt a deal with teams that follow, or they may offer the Chargers less compensation for the pick. Regardless of what happens I am glad Manning is smart enough to know that SD is not a good place to be.

More on DC Baseball

Eric at Off Wing responds to my thoughts on using DC to extort subsidies. In it he includes the reader comments of Ken Houghton. It is some interesting stuff. If you want to know about the possibility of baseball in DC, Eric is the blogosphere’s leading expert, so check out his site for more info.

I agree with Eric that baseball in DC is unlikely. I have posted my own thoughts on why owners have steered away from DC for the past three decades. Eric has made an even stronger case why DC will not get the team. I do think that extortion for subsidies is a possibility, but I think the other factors making DC a poor baseball market play a larger role.

Keep up the good work Eric!

Age and Performance: Old versus New

Skip points to an interesting study in the SF Chronicle by Jim Albert. Albert is an excellent baseball statistician who co-authored the book Curve Ball. In the article Albert examines the aging patterns of legendary home run hitters.

Bonds’ power stroke and batter’s eye show little sign of weakening. If anything, he has seemed to get better the older he gets, well past the point where most other power hitters are well into the sunset phase of their careers.

Albert elaborates,

“It’s really hard to pin it down to one thing,” Albert said. “But you can say that players appear to be peaking later. It’s really impossible to say anything about steroids just based on statistics, but some of these patterns are curious. Something is driving these changes. … One thing that stands out is that Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa all had these dramatic rises in home run hitting that is very different from Aaron, Mays, and McCovey.”

While I agree that Bonds and McGwire differ from the past home run legends, I would like to add that they differ in their aging patterns from their contemporaries as well. At the request of Eric at Off Wing, I plotted the OPS of Bonds, McGwire, and all players with career OPS+ greater than 120 from 1980-2003. (Note: My OPS+ is OPS relative to the league OPS without park effects).

All of the good players appear to be peaking later than the old guard, but Bonds and McGwire are truly special players.

I would also like to add, I am using Albert’s study as motivation to move over this cool chart from my other site. I am a big fan of Albert, and I suspect his study is quite good and goes much more in depth than I have done here. I mean, I didn’t even look at HRs! Pick up a copy of Curve Ball, you’ll like it. And congrats to Albert for getting picked up by The SF Chronicle.

Quality of Play and Attendance

In the comments to The Extortion Game post, Shonk makes a very good point.

Another thing to keep in mind is that expansion degrades the quality of the product: expansion brings 25 players who would otherwise have been in the minors into the major leagues, meaning the average player’s skill level drops. Presumably, this would lead to a decline in attendance figures and other revenue sources that would partially counteract the gains from the sale of a new franchise. That’s all pretty hard to quantify, I would imagine, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Pretty hard to quantify indeed, but I thought I would try anyway. This diagram plots the change in average attendance per game and the change in the US population to MLB player ratio by decade. Using the Gould hypothesis of player quality, the greater the population per player the better the competition will be. Expansion lowers the quality of competition and the Pop/Player ratio.

There does seem to be a slight negative relationship between attendance per game and the Pop/Player ratio, but the observations are so few and I have left out many relevant factorts that I would not draw any strong conclusions from it. Yet, I think it is interesting that there may be a positive relationship between the overall quality of play and attendance.

BTW, you should check out Shonk’s excellent weblog, Selling Waves.