Archive for February, 2005

Sickels Braves Top-20

John Sickels has now posted his ratings for the Top-20 Braves prospects. Enjoy!

Introducing Baseball Analysts

Richard Lederer of Rich’s Weekend Baseball Beat and Bryan Smith of Wait Til Next Year have joined forces to create a new baseball weblog, Baseball Analysts. They describe the site as

an online site devoted to examining the game’s past, present, and future. The Baseball Analysts will fully integrate Rich’s Weekend Baseball Beat and Wait Til Next Year. The new site will feature full-length articles, interviews, and roundtable discussions daily, plus guest columnists weekly.

The topics of discussion will include college, minor league, and major league baseball. Lederer and Smith will generally write individual columns as in the past, but they will also collaborate on articles and with others on several new features to
offer a unique online magazine.

Congrats to Bryan and Rich on their new site, and I wish you guys the best of luck. I’ll add a link to the sidebar shortly.

Sewanee Baseball is Underway

The Division III Sewanee Tigers opened the season this weekend. Though it was a tough road trip, I think the team looks pretty good this year. I expect good things, especially from the Economics majors. The Opening Day starter, Matt Woods, had a fantastic game with 6 Ks, no walks, and no HRs allowed in 7-1/3 IP. He had one hit batter, but we’ll blame it on the DH. This is proof to all that Econometrics midterms are performance-enhancing. Matt was clearly fired up from Wednesday’s test. 😉 You can follow Sewanee Baseball here.

The Smoltz – Alexander Trade

So, you think the Tigers got a raw deal in the Smoltz for Alexander trade? Studes at The Hardball Times has an interesting take on the trade.

The net effect of this is that dealing Smoltz was a great deal for the Braves, as he accumulated 168 weighted Win Shares for the Braves, while Alexander would have accumulated 12. That’s a difference of 156 weighted Win Shares in favor of the Braves.

And for the Tigers, it was also a good deal. Alexander accumulated 74 weighted Win Shares for them, while Smoltz would have accumulated 66. That’s a difference of eight weighted Win Shares in the Tigers’ favor.

That’s right. If you are willing to jump through all those hoops with me, this deal was a Win/Win outcome! Despite the lopsided nature of the initial Win Share totals, the Tigers actually made themselves a good deal. The Braves’ side of the deal was much better, but that doesn’t detract from the Tigers’ side of the math. If a deal had a positive variance in your favor, you made a good deal for yourself even if the other team had a bigger variance.

Imagine that, a trade that benefits both parties! It’s just so amazing how hard it is for economists to convince non-economists that trade is mutually beneficial.

Scouts Honor: The Anti-Moneyball

It looks like a response to Moneyball has come from an unlikely source. Bill Shanks has announced the release of Scouts Honor: The Bravest Way To Build a Winning Team. The book distributor’s website states:

Michael Lewis’s MONEYBALL was a huge success arguing the case for the new brand of baseball General Managers and operations people who were changing the game with their Harvard degrees and outside-the-box, number-centric take on what it took to build a winning team, using the Oakland A’s as the focal point of his argument. Atlanta Braves television host Bill Shanks looks at what that approach has really meant to baseball and why the instincts of the old-school scouts and baseball veterans are the only true way to build a winning and successful baseball team in this ‘new’ generation. Using the Atlanta Braves as a focal point, Scout’s Honor is an in-depth look at what instinct and gut-reaction means to baseball and how the numbers-don’t-lie style of the new breed is not only misleading, but mistaken.

For those of you who don’t know who Bill Shanks is, he is a journalist who covers the Braves for the MLB Scout site, Braves Center. He is vehemently anti-sabermetrics.

Given my fascination with both the Braves and sabermetrics — not to mention that I consider the Braves to be a pro-sabermetric organization — I think I have a duty to review to book. I have tried to obtain an advance review copy, but I can’t really find a way to get in touch with the publisher. But don’t worry, once I get my hands on it, I’ll post a review here.

Braves Defense by PMR

Many of you are probably aware of David Pinto‘s fantastic new defensive metric, Probabilistic Model of Range (PMR). Using many factors affecting balls-in-play he evaluated the fielding of players based on actual outs versus predicted outs of MLB players. I’m not going to go into the specifics of his methods, but you can read more about it here. I got tired of going to look for the Braves numbers so I compiled a list here. In addition to the PMR “Difference” (Actual DER – Predicted DER) I include Runs Saved Above Average (RAA) conversion as calculated by Chronicles of the Lads. The ranks are by position.

Player Position Difference Diff.-Rank RAA RAA-Rank
Johnny Estrada C -0.00031 35 NA NA
Eddie Perez C 0.00061 20 NA NA
Andruw Jones CF 0.0034 3.5 17.9346 2
Adam LaRoche First 0.00179 27 -1.7168 25
Julio Franco First 0.00254 19 -0.3547 19
Brian Jordan RF 0.00622 4 5.8728 11
Rafael Furcal SS -0.01189 35 -17.1837 37
Marcus Giles Second -0.0076 29 -5.6248 29
Nick Green Second 0.00416 2 29.8582 2
Chipper Jones Third 0.01259 8 14.2803 3

There are certainly a few surprises here. Chipper and Jordan do a lot better than I expected. LaRoche and Furcal are much worse than I expected.

Brave Predictions

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the upcoming Braves season, and I’ve made some predictions in my head. I’ve stated them in various places, but I thought I’d put them down here for the record. Please, feel free to recall the record at any time when it turns out I was wrong.

1. Horacio Ramirez will not be in the rotation long, if at all. Injury or no injury it’s going to be hard for him to get things together this year. The mental aspect of coming back from what happened last year is plenty. Then, add to this the fact that his peripherals have not been very good, ever. The stat that worries me the most is Defense Efficiency Record (DER). You can see his DER at The Hardball Times Stats Page for NL Pitchers. It was .770; compared to the NL average of .711 his DER was two standard deviations above average among pitchers throwing more than 50 innings. That put him third in the league, and that’s what kept his ERA so low last year. So what’s the big deal? Isn’t a high DER a good thing? The big deal is that pitchers don’t seem to have much control over balls in play. Having a good DER is like winning the lottery. You’re happy it happened to you, but you don’t expect it to increase your chances of winning any future lotteries. With his propensity for putting the ball in play, I don’t expect him to have a good ERA unless he cuts out his walks, increases his strikeouts, or stops giving up the longball. I don’t see any signs of that happening. He was very lucky last year, and expectations will be high. That’s a lot for a young guy to cope with, especially when what used to work stops working.

2. Danny Kolb will be a middle-reliever, not the closer, by mid-season. He will be a valuable cog in the bullpen, though. Like Ramirez, Kolb was lucky last year on balls in play with a DER of .758. His ERA from last year may be a bit flukey, but he’s got two very good things going for him. He rarely walks guys or gives up home runs. His low strikeout rate (3.3 Ks per 9) makes him a very different type of pitcher than John Smoltz. The fact that Kolb doesn’t give up many free passes and can prevent the longball makes me think he will fit better into long relief. Keep the ball in the park and the game under control. I think Colon and Reitsma are better suited for closing duties.

3. Marcus Giles will be the MVP of the Braves for the 2005 season. Is this really a bold prediction? I mean the guy has been a stud for the past two seasons, but freak injuries have really slowed him down.

4. Brian Jordan will be a platoon player only. All this talk of BJ walking into his old role would be out of character for the Braves. He’s old, but with some speed, power, and on-base ability. If he bats only against lefties, and Langerhans can handle the righties it might be a very productive platoon. He’ll be 38 next season and he has a history of injuries; I just can’t believe he was brought in to be anything but a part-time player.

5. If no one gets hurt in the infield, Andy Marte will play in the outfield this season. Again, I’m going to disagree with some popular reports to the contrary that say Marte will stay at third. This move makes perfect sense even if the Braves are willing to play him in the outfield. Why make a young slugger uncomfortable at a new position if situations may dictate that he return to his old position? Chipper is getting older, and I have to believe that nagging hammy may flare up again. Chipper may not be in the outfield, but he has to run the bases. If Marte has to step in, have him step in from where he’s always been. But, I think that there is a good chance that Chipper may stay healthy just by his own will to stay healthy. If Marte, lights it up in the spring or early on in Richmond, he’s going to get his at-bats in Atlanta. All indications are that he will be lighting it up. And if Schuerholz was willing to play Klesko in the outfield he won’t flinch with Marte. And given that the Braves gave up after two days on a plan to groom him for the outfield, it makes me think that he did well rather than poorly.

Minor League Ball

John Sickels of “Down on the Farm” fame has bounced back with his new weblog, Minor League Ball. I urge you to visit it early and often. I’ll add a link to the sidebar, shortly.

Thanks Doug!

I wanted to offer a big thanks to Doug Drinen for his posts here at Sabernomics over the past two weeks. As I had thought they would be, Doug’s posts were excellent. However, I had not anticipated the spike in visits thanks to his work. I have to thank Eric at Offwing and Aaron at Football Outsiders (also thanks to other pointers of whom I’m ignorant) for spreading the word around the sports blogosphere. I hope the response has convinced Doug to start blogging full time. He needs to, and I’m doing all I can to convince him to start his own blog.

Doug and I watched the Super Bowl together last night and cheered for the “Green Eagles,” as Doug’s son says. Though the game was close and had many elements of seeming like a good game, I found the game lacking and sloppy at times. But, at least it seems we had two closely matched teams that played hard. Oh well, 55 days until Opening Day. Now, it’s that time of year when I have to try really hard to stomach basketball.

Joey Galloway?

I owe you a blog on Joey Galloway and his place among the all-time greats.

Also, Football Outsiders posted a link to
the post that
necessitated an explanation of Joey Galloway’s place among the all-time greats.
Interesting discussion ensued. The folks over
there brought up some points that I need to address. I’ll do that here, and try to integrate the Galloway

First, let me elaborate a bit on my closing words.

Before I end today’s entry with the list, keep in mind that a methodology stands or falls on its merits,
independent of the results it generates. If you like the methodology, you are not allowed to complain about the
list. If you don’t like the methodology, you shouldn’t even be looking at the list. But no fair changing your
mind after peeking.

I do believe this in theory but I’m also aware, as I betrayed in the first paragraph of the same post, that it’s
not a feasible rule to live by in practice. I am a football fan and am therefore interested in who the greatest
wide receivers of all time are. A big part of putting together lists like these is to learn something I didn’t
already know about football history. Equally interesting is the exercise of thinking through precisely what
criteria we want to use and how they fit together. To me, this is a fascinating puzzle where you have mountains
of data that is only very loosely connected and you have to make sense of it. It’s an academic exercise, but what
do you expect? I’m an academic.

I’ve been around the internet block enough to realize that if you post an all-time list with Joey Galloway at #9, any thoughtful
critique of the method will at best be overcome by discussions about who really ought to be
at #9 or, much more likely, by allegations of crack use. That closing paragraph was my best attempt at a lightning rod.

Bill James — I think it was him, but I have a habit of assuming every good idea I’ve ever read is his — used
to have an 80/20 rule (note that this is not the same as
Pareto’s apparently more well-known
80/20 rule
). A methodology is good if it gives you about 80% what you’d expect and 20% surprises. If you’re
getting more than 80% “right” answers, that means that the method was probably rigged to match your preconceived
notions. You can’t learn anything from a method that simply confirms what you already thought you knew. On the
other hand, if you get more than 20% suprises it means that the method, while possibly sound in theory, has too
many loopholes. Or maybe it’s just garbage.

I will concede that the method, as currently constituted, has a surprise rate north of 20%.

Joey Galloway can’t possibly be the 9th best receiver of all-time. He just can’t. But, if you read through
the first part of the post saying, “this sounds OK,” then the proper response to seeing his name in that spot
is not to say, “well, so much for that.” The proper response is to take a long hard look at Joey Galloway’s
career. Maybe you’ll learn that he’s better than you thought he was. Maybe he’ll lead you to a loophole in your
method. Probably some of both. At this point, you’ve learned something about the topic you were trying to learn
about (ranking the all-time great wide receivers), and you set to work on closing the Galloway loophole without
opening any others.

So what exactly is the Galloway loophole?

Well, first let me describe the method in slightly different terms, still using the college football analogy.
How do you objectively rank college football teams? Whether you’re using a fancy computer scheme or having a
casual water-cooler conversation, the method is essentially the same: you start with the team’s record and you
adjust it to account for strength of schedule.

Galloway has played games against Brian Blades, Mike Pritchard, James McKnight, Ricky Proehl, Tim Brown, Terry
Glenn, Darnay Scott, Sean Dawkins, and Rocket Ismail, and he has won most of those games. So he has a good
record. What about strength of schedule? One argument made by those who champion computer ranking systems for
college football is that, in order to know how Auburn compares to USC, you have to know how Oregon compares to
Arkansas, how Arizona compares to Ole Miss, and so on. Intutition only gets you so far. Our brains are only
capable of processing so much information, so we lazily lump Oregon and Arkansas together as “mediocre” and we
call Arizona and Ole Miss “bad.” Many people won’t even go that far, and lump all four into a category called
“unranked,” even though there are significant differences among them. Same thing here. You’ve probably spent lots of time thinking about how Tim Brown and Cris Carter
compare. You probably haven’t spent any time thinking about how Mike Pritchard and Ike Hilliard compare.

Well, it turns out that maybe Brian Blades and Ricky Proehl and Mike Prtichard and Darnay Scott and Rocket Ismail
and Terry Glenn aren’t half bad. I won’t bore you with the particulars, and I won’t try to convince you
that any of these guys is Steve Largent, but all them had a fair amount of success at various points in their
careers. And in almost every case, they had more success competing against other receivers than they did
competing against Galloway.

Two years ago, Miami (Ohio) started appearing in the top 5 of some of the computer polls. Critics thought it was
ridiculous and mocked it accordingly. But when it comes down to it, why were they ranked so darned high?
Because they were 13-1. “Yeah, but who did they beat?” ask the mockers, “Bowling Green and Marshall. Pfft.”
But if you take a close look at it, Bowling Green and Marshall weren’t so bad. Ultimately, Miami was ranked so
high because they beat almost every team they played, and because the teams they played were beating other
teams as often as not. I shouldn’t stretch this parallel too far, but you’ve probably figured out that Galloway
is Miami (Ohio), Brian Blades is Marshall, and so on.

Galloway has very frequently led his team in receiving, and the other receivers on his teams — while admittedly
seeming more Bowling Green-ish than Florida State-like — have at several different times led other
teams in
receiving. If you think my initial premise is reasonable, then isn’t this evidence that Galloway is pretty good?
To press the point, what’s the evidence that Galloway isn’t good? His stats? As we are all aware, stats
are, in part, the products of context. To take one example of that, the quarterbacks on Galloway’s teams have
been: Mirer, Mirer, Moon (age
41), Moon (age 42), Kitna, Aikman (his final season), Quincy Carter, Chad Hutchinson, Quincy Carter, Brian Griese.
What wide receiver is going to put up numbers with those guys throwing to him? Apparently, none. But Galloway
has done the best job of making something of a bad situation.

OK, fine. Maybe you’re willing to consider that Galloway is not as dreadful as you thought, but number 9??!
That’s a bit much. I agree. Unfortunately, there’s not a loophole here that can be fixed. What there is is a
collection of
idiosynchratic issues that happen to all be working in Galloway’s favor. The situation is similar to if Miami
happened to play Bowling Green on four days rest, Marshall when their star running back was hurt, some other team
in severe weather conditions that favored Miami, etc.

One issue with the system is that it punishes players pretty heavily for really terrible
seasons. It was pointed out in the Football Outsiders discussion that Mark Duper ranked #28 and Mark Clayton
was unranked (he’s #58), which is curious because the two played on the same team and posted very similar
receiving yards totals for most of their careers. The difference is that Clayton had the 6/114/0 rookie year and
the 32/331/3 swan song in Green Bay, whereas Duper quit while he was ahead (Anthony Miller is another player who
rates surprisingly high in large part because he, like Galloway, never had a total dog of a season). If Clayton’s
rookie year had
been 500 yards instead of 100 and he would have retired a year earlier, he leaps ahead of Duper to #25.
Likewise, if Tim Brown had retired instead of playing for the Bucs last year, it would have dropped Galloway a
couple of spots. Tim Brown’s 2004 numbers have almost no bearing on an assessment of Tim Brown’s career,
much less Joey Galloway’s. This is a problem.

Tampa rookie Michael Clayton does not yet qualify as relevant and so was lumped in as a pseudoreceiver. This
dilutes the strength of Clayton’s victory over Galloway last year. The same is true of Antonio Bryant,
who beat Galloway twice with Dallas. If you tinker with the definition of relevance to include guys like Clayton
and Bryant, you can shove Galloway almost out of the top 20 without changing the top of the list very much at all.
But this has unintended consequences, of course. To name a couple, Randy Moss and Marvin Harrison drop even
further down than they already were. It’s not clear which list is more “right.”

Ricky Proehl’s career is just plain funny. The only really bad years he ever had were the years he was
Galloway’s teammate. I doubt much of this is attributable to Galloway, but Galloway gets credit for it
nonetheless. Similar deal with Darnay Scott.

The common theme here is that too much emphasis is placed on distinctions that aren’t meaningful. It’s not
relevant in any real sense whether Tim Brown had 200 yards or 500 yards this year. It’s not relevant whether
Darnay Scott had 200 yards or zero yards for the 2001 Cowboys.
A human can see that Brown’s 2004 and Scott’s 2001
are irrelevant, but it’s not clear how to tell the computer exactly which seasons to throw out.

Probably the most serious issue is that Colley’s algorithm was designed to work in a situation where about 100
teams are playing about 10 games each. I am forcing it into a situation where there are over a thousand teams,
some of whom are playing one game and some of whom are playing nearly 50. Colley’s algorithm inherently assumes
some level of Kevin Bacon-style connectivity, and this is achieved in a college football season. But it’s not a
achieved here. And that’s a real problem. Terrell Owens, for example, only has games against pseudoreceivers,
Jerry Rice and one against Todd Pinkston. This is the equivalent of the Texas Longhorns having a schedule
consisting of five games against OU (losing 4), seven games against Sam Houston St., and one against Baylor. The
human pollsters would have no idea where to rank Texas, and neither would the computers.

There are a handful of parameters in my algorithm — like how many guys are deemed relevant, what the age
adjustments are, etc. — that I can tweak without violating the spirit of the idea. The resulting lists would be more or less reasonable, but
ultimately I don’t think this method is capable of producing an all-time list that will pass the 80-20 test. That’s
a shame, because I really liked the idea.

But, as always, it was still worth the time spent. I’ve gained a new appreciation for Joey Galloway and Anthony Miller, and I’ve given J.C. a break from the grind known as Sabernomics. I’ll see you at next year’s Super Bowl Extravaganza.