Tuesday, 8 December 2009

"If I were a Nats fan, I'd be embarrassed"

So wrote someone in the comments on the MLB Trade Rumours' report of the signing of Ivan Rodriguez for 2009-10.

Stuff and nonsense, I say! This is one of my favourite players of the current 'era' of baseball. I haven't got time to research it now, but he's made comments in the past (specifically when he was with the Tigers) that have led me to believe he's a thoughtful catcher who will work well with young pitchers.

Call me delighted, not embarrassed.

Projection numbers from CHONE:

Rodriguez 428 48 107 21 2 9 45 19 82 2 .250 .285 .371 3
Nieves 257 23 64 12 1 3 29 18 45 2 .249 .303 .339 -5

DEF is a projection of defensive ability, where 0 is average.

EDIT: Brian Oliver, at Nationals Farm Authority, whose blog I have inexplicably left off my list in spite of visiting it most regularly since 2005, is less impressed.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

The Spirit of James Bowden

I've been so immersed in the Hall of Merit and some spin-off research from that, that I haven't been paying much attention to the Nationals' 2010 Hot Stove season.

A quick scan of MLB Trade Rumours reveals very litte of interest for Nationals' fans in the last ten days or so (unless you were, like me, with the Expos in 2003-4, and remember Livan Hernandez' more fondly - he's now unlikely to come back according to Bill Ladson).

"Our goal is to trade for pitching, pitching, pitching," our old friend and mentor, Jim Bowden was once quoted as saying. Mike Rizzo's first offseason has much the same theme, as so far the Nationals have only been linked to big-name pitchers.

I do enjoy the pursuit of John Lackey, though. He's headlined not only the article I linked to above, but also another one by Bill Ladson that ties the Nationals to Mike Gonzalez and Billy Wagner.

Whoa, let's think about this here. I have always been a fan of Wagner, especially when his 2004 version helped a Diamond Mind team of mine make the playeoffs, but Wagner's a Type A, so that's a lost draft pick (quite probably a second-rounder, as .500 ball still strikes me as another season away). Gonzalez is a Type A, too, and I find this worrying sentence in Ladson's article:
Gonzalez played for the Braves in 2009 and had one of his best seasons, appearing in 80 games, recording a 2.92 ERA with 10 saves and 90 strikeouts.

That's the bullpen equivalent of buying into a bubble - signing a player who just had his best season, so can demand more money. Well, I guess if you have it, you can spend it, but I'm out of a more frugal tradition. Save your money until you need it.

Now that the Soviet Union is gone, enigma-lovers have two options - Vaticanology or NatsTownology to amuse us. Since Vatican City isn't a baseball team, I'll stick to the latter. Let's look at that Ladson article again. What do Billy Wagner, Mike Gonzalez and Ron Villone have in common? Why, they are all left-handers! And then there's this sentence:
[Villone] has a fan in manager Jim Riggleman.

Sorry, Billy and Mike, but I don't think you'll be on our team next year.

Friday, 27 November 2009

When Might Replacement Level Be Higher Than Average?

When you're talking about shortstops batting in the 1972 National League!

There's been an interesting discussion at Baseball Think Factory's Hall of Merit about replacement level under different one-big-number systems of rating players. You can read it here starting at post 39. One of the debaters, DanR, has been suggesting for some time that the replacement level for shortstops was very low in the early 1970s, which is another way of saying there weren't many good shortstops then. You can read in that thread a suggestion of why that might be.

Anyway, DanR has one method, derived from Baseball Prospectus' erstwhile contributor Nate Silver, and Tom Tango, of The Book Blog (see sidebar), suggested that as an alternative one might take anyone who wasn't in the top 50 playing at a given position as 'replacement-level players'. I thought I'd try a real example of that.

So I adjusted this on the principle that 50 suited the 30-team major leagues of today, while 42 would be better for the 24-team major leagues of 1972. Then I got the 43rd through about 96th ranked shortstops in terms of putouts (should have used assists, but I have an excuse), and calculated their wOBA (weighted On-Base Average). Then I made a similar list of the top 42 at second base and third base, and took those people out of the shortstop list. Then I aggregated the shortstops' batting by individual leagues and overall. Here's what I got:

NL replacements .274
NL regulars .263
ML regulars .262
AL regulars .260
ML replacements .257
AL replacements .243

These replacements in the NL are guys who don't have more than 85 at bats, and include people like Larvell Blanks, a 22 year-old utility player with a .355 wOBA who actually was more of a secondbaseman, but got 30 innings at shortstop. Or Craig Robinson, Larry Bowa's understudy at Philadelphia, with 16 assists and a .235 wOBA or Rafael Robles, who split time at third and short for San Diego, who also managed 16 assists but only a .150 wOBA.

Just looking at the list, I suspect the number would be closer to the AL level if it hadn't been for Blanks and another Brave, Gil Garrido, whose .302 wOBA in 75 at bats means that between them these two count for a little over 20 per cent of all replacement at-bats at shortstop in the 1972 NL.

EDIT: I meant to say something about the Braves' full-time shortstop, Marty Perez. He managed a below-avera wOBA of .247, and his TotalZone fielding runs were -14.8. He was only 25, though, and did manage to improve with both bat and glove after that, although he got moved to second in 1974.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009


Moving away from the Nationals postmortems for a bit, it's Hall of Merit time in the Sabermetric City. I was a latecomer to the Hall of Merit, but it's given me hours of fun. Just like last night!

To fill you in - I'd filed a preliminary ballot based on some people who'd been getting lots of votes, when I noticed from Rick Reuschel's Davenport Translationspage at Baseball Prospectus that he had an awful lot of WARP3. Anyway, I prefer to home-brew my own stats than use other people's. (Unless they are from the Big Bad Baseball Annual!) So, how to get a quick-and-dirty One Big Number for a pitcher?

I failed on the 'quick' part, but I made a stab at creating a Defense Independent Earned Run Average, based on Clay Davenport's article on his Fielding Translations in the 2002 Baseball Prospectus. Here's how it works.

Stats you need:
A pitcher's seasonal Games, Innings Pitched, Hits, Home Runs, Bases on Balls, Hit Batsmen, Strike Outs and Earned Runs.

1) Create a new category, called FldgHits. Subtract Home Runs from Hits.
2) Multiply the IP by 3. Subtract strikeouts. Take 30% of that number and add the strike outs back in. Divide by 3. This is 'PitchIP'.
3) Use a modified version of Equivalent Average and calculate the PitchingEqA and the FieldingEqA as follows
Pitching (2*(30% of FldgHits))+(3*HR)+(1.5*(BB+BP))/(IP*3)+(FldgHits)+BB+HBP
Fielding (2*(70% of FldgHits))/(FldgHits)+(IP*3)
4) Divide the PitchingEqA by the FieldingEqA.
5) Subtract 1 from the ratio in step (4). This gives you PitResp.
6) (PitchIP*3)+(30% of FldgHits)+HR+BB+HBP = PitchPA
7) (70% of ((IP-SO)*3))+(70% of FldgHits)=FldgPA
8) [(1+PitResp)*PitchPA]/[(1+PitResp)*(PitchPA+FldgPA)] = PERmultiplier
9) [(Earned runs)*(PERmultiplier)/PitchIP]/9 = DIERA

Ah, but you're not done there. The big number has to be a 'winning percentage', and to get that you need to perform all the same calculations for his league. But we'll come back to that after you've had some time to digest this.

Reuschel's best season on this measure is 1985. ERA+ agrees but says his second best is 1977. I think I might take a look at 1981 with the Yankees.

Friday, 13 November 2009

What's the Shortstop's Name?

Well, Jim Riggleman was named manager. When Mr Acta was on the rack, I fretted because I didn't think replacing him with Riggleman would make much difference. I'll get round to looking at whether I was right later in this off-season. For now, I wish Mr Riggleman all the luck in the world, and hope that he's not thrown to the wolves at some later date.

However, with Hot Stove Season now in full swing, I look at MLB Trade Rumors to start my day, and I find the Nationals are in the news. A couple of Fox bloggers refer to 'a major-league source' saying that the Nationals are interested in a slick-fielding shortstop. Well, that's much too vague, and Rosenthal was wrong about Mr Acta getting fired in Tampa Bay. I can't be bothered to go look if 'major-league sources' were involved in that one.

Meanwhile, straight from Mr Riggleman, Bill Ladson of MLB.com tells us that Desmond is the front runner for the job. Well, why not? If you have two shortstops, play 'em both!

Except that, Mr Riggleman has this to say: 'I was probably the last one to see that [moving Guzmán to second] was a move we need to make.' Now, what does that mean? I guess it could mean simply what it says. But could it also mean that Mr Riggleman had to be convinced? That maybe he is concerned about the ability of Guzmán to turn the pivot or something?

Being a humble blogger, at the end I always have to confess that 'I don't know'. If Guzmán can no longer make a throw from shortstop that'll reach Dunn in time to beat the runner, well he's got to be moved. But if you have two shortstops, maybe trading one for a secondbaseman is a better answer than trying to make an old guy, who wasn't all that great in the field, learn a new position. Or, you could sign a second baseman. Would Orlando Hudson take a two-year deal?

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Nationals' 2009 Postmortem #4: Leadoff Spot

Hmm, I had the chart done about ten days again, then I wound up with too much to do. (Some of that was watching the World Series.)

The Nationals did suffer from a problem here this past season. For some reason, even the supposedly sabermetrically minded Acta seemed to look for a 'classic' leadoff hitter to fill the spot. They did have a 'sabermetric' leadoff hitter, until they traded him to Florida. The chart tells us more than any amount of words by me could possibly do:

Remember, this is not a measure of quality, but of how the different elements in a player's stat line convert to Runs Created. So neither Nyjer Morgan nor Cristian Guzmán walk anything like as much as an archetypal NL leadoff hitter. Most of their offensive 'oomph' comes from batting average, way more than the archetypal NL anything. Willie Harris does walk a lot more, and hits for power, but he doesn't hit for average. Also, Harris is a good player in the sense that he's versatile, but is he really a major-league regular?

The Nationals may feel that they solved their leadoff issues by trading for Morgan, but I'd say they should still be looking.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Nationals' Postmortem #3 - 'Batting Third, Ryan Zimmerman'

So, armed with the Ashley Hexagon, let's take a look at the Nationals' lineup in more detail. In this series of posts, I propose to look at each lineup slot, and the players who batted there, to see if they are more or less like the average National League batter at that position. Then, we'll see what that might tell us about who the Nationals might like to target this offseason, in the 'drive to 75'.

As a benchmark, I'm going to focus in each position on the player who got at least 80 per cent of the Plate Appearances. If nobody reached 80 per cent, then I'll add in players, in order of total Plate Appearances (PA), starting with the largest, until I hit 80 per cent. To make my life easy, I'll start with the third spot, filled by Ryan Zimmerman for about 86 per cent of the total PA. First, let's see how his hitting profile matched the National League generally:

The right-hand axis is an indication of power. The closer one is to that side, the more likely one has power. The bottom axis shows batting average, the further to the left, the more runs are created through batting average. The left-hand axis is how much walks contribute to runs created. The chart shows the proportions of the average National-League batter at the various positions in the lineup. It doesn't actually tell us anything about the quantity of runs created (using Bill James' most basic formula), only how the different elements are weighted in the total.

The data is based not on Zimmerman's performance batting third, but on his totals for the year batting in all positions, and as a pinch hitter. The key thing to note here is that Ryan Zimmerman's 2009 profile is more like that of a cleanup hitter than that of a batter in the third spot. The question becomes whether the fact that he was hitting out the 'wrong' spot hurt the Nationals' ability to score runs. That's something I intend to cover in a later post, but there's food for thought here.

I see two alternatives. Either Zimmerman should be moved to the cleanup position, or one could consider the possibility that he should bat second, since he has the walk rate, but a lot more power. Sabermetric theory tells us the best hitter should bat second, to optimize his contribution in terms of getting to the plate with men on base.

It's an interesting question. Keep him where he is or move him? What would you do?

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Nationals' Postmortem #'2 - Lineup Overview

This post is an introduction to an in-depth analysis of the 2009 Washington Nationals' batting lineup using some old-fashioned sabermetric methods. Throughout it all, I'm interested in how Nationals' players compared to the league average. Before we get to the actual measure of quality, I'm going to offer a profile of how the Nationals put together hits, power and walks in the different lineup slots in order to generate runs. As a first step, I'm going to excavate the Ashley Hexagon, which first appeared in the 1997 Big Bad Baseball Abstract.

The Ashley Hexagon was described by Gerry Myerson on pages 100-106 It doesn't tell you a whole lot about quality. What it analyses, using a basic form of Bill James' Runs Created, is where a given batter sources his offensive contribution. 'X' percent came from his hits, 'y' from walks and 'z' from power. Usefully, we can compare that to the league average.

Here's a graph (click on it to see it bigger) showing you the National League average. There are three components. The left-hand graph measures the walk component. The bottom is a contact component, but the right-had graph is power, so a negative number at the bottom means not much power.

Here's another graph, showing the Nationals' average by batting order position. As you can see, the Nationals' get more of their runs created by power than the league average in the heart of the lineup.

That 'z-axis' marks the right-hand boundary of the NL average, but the Nationals' push w-a-a-a-y over to make space for their cleanup hitter. Basically, the heart of the Nationals' order was more likely than the league to create runs through extra-base hits. They also tended to walk a bit more. However, at either end of the lineup there's a distinct shortage of both power and, in the leadoff spot especially, walks. It's a peculiar sort of bifurcation. Sock and eye is all in one place.

Finally, let's take a snapshot of actual quality by utilizing the Big Bad Baseball Annual's Offensive Index. Here, we have one line showing the league average of Runs Created per batting order position matched against another showing that of the Washington Nationals.

Well, there's a couple of surprises there. All that power didn't actually generate a lot of Runs Created by those 3, 4, 5 and 6 hitters. Who'd have thought the number three slot for the Nationals offered below-league-average production? And the leadoff slot was about average? What, you did? [Exeunt, red-faced.]

Saturday, 10 October 2009

2009 Nationals' Postmortem #1 - Fielding Overview

Sorry about not keeping up with the Fielding Weekly for the last seven weeks of the season. The trip to England messed up my routine too much, and then returning my roots to the groves of academe didn't help either. I didn't pay much attention to baseball until the last week of the season.

With the mea culpa out the way, let's talk leather. No, not Jim Bowden's supposed trouser preferences, but the gloves of our ballplayers. Actually, maybe you wouldn't want me to draw attention to this. I've seen the figures already.

To recapitulate, the columns below show the Nationals' fielding as measured by Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), a fielding metric devised by Mitchell Lichtman of The Book fame. It's widely accepted as the 'gold standard' of fielding. The first column is 'raw UZR', which measures the total effect of a player's fielding at a given position, in terms of runs above or below a notional 'average fielder' over the innings he played this past season. The second column is the gain or loss since the last time I did this exercise. The third column is UZR/150, or the total UZR score normalized to what it would be over 150 games. It has a comparative value—you immediately can see how one player at a position compares to another. The fourth column is the gain or loss in UZR/150 since last time. Next we have Revised Zone Rating RZR, which measures how many times a player caught the ball, given the chances to catch the ball. Then the gain or loss, etc. Finally, the average RZR at that player's position in MLB. The order is total innings played at that position. The guys in bold are the biggest gainers in each of the three columns. The cut-off point is 120 innings.

Player              UZR   Change  UZR/150  Change  RZR   Change   MLBaverage
Zimmerman (3B) 17.9 + 5.2 14.1 - 2.8 .748 -.021 .712
Guzmán (SS) - 2.5 + 1.9 - 1.8 + 1.2 .785 +.016 .801
Johnson (1B) - 5.8 + 0.2 - 5.9 + 0.9 .776 +.006 .782
Willingham (LF) - 4.7 - 2.3 - 7.1 - 1.1 .925 +.006 .894
Dukes (RF) 3.6 - 3.6 - 5.8 - 4.3 .893 -.005 .908
Dunn (1b) -13.9 - 6.6 -18.7 +16.7 .651 +.115 .782
Dunn (LF) -14.4 - 2.0 -28.4 - 4.1 .832 n.c. .894
Hernandez (2B) 2.0 + 0.8 3.7 + 1.4 .859 +.005 .813
Harris (CF) - 6.1 - 1.0 -13.6 + 2.4 .935 -.003 .931
Morgan (CF) 13.0 - 0.2 31.7 - 4.2 .960 -.004 .931
Kearns (RF) 2.1 + 0.4 11.1 + 5.8 .893 n.c. .908
Gonzalez (2b) - 3.0 + 0.8 - 5.8 +10.5 .775 +.018 .813
Belliard (2B) 2.2 - 1.1 5.0 - 6.3 .871 -.022 .813
Gonzalez (SS) - 3.6 + 2.2 -26.2 +13.8 .691 +.043 .801
Dukes (CF) - 4.8 + 0.3 -15.1 + 3.5 .898 n.c. .931
Willingham (RF) - 1.0 - 0.3 -5.3 - 3.0 .966 +.004 .905
Maxwell (CF) 5.0 n/a 26.2 n/a .932 n/a .931
Dunn (RF) - 8.1 + 0.2 -33.0 + 5.8 .761 n.c. .908
Harris (LF) 1.9 n/a 12.6 n/a .846 n/a .894
Desmond (ss) 0.3 n/a 0.9 n/a .738 n/a .801
Orr (2B) 3.9 n/a 27.4 n/a .891 n/a .813

Trying to estimate the impact of fielding, of course, is an inexact business. UZR doesn't think Willingham is as good a fielder as RZR does, for example. Nonetheless, we can make some assessments.

1) Going by RZR, which for various reasons I prefer, the Nationals' fielding wasn't as bad as one might think, but it's really not at all good.
2) Adam Dunn dramatically improved as a firstbaseman; but he still was the worst in the league.
3) Alberto Gonzalez was not an improvement over Anderson Hernandez.
4) Desmond probably isn't a significant improvement over Guzmán at shortstop. It may be that Guzmán still ought to be the starting shortstop next season. Unless he's traded.
5) Zimmerman might be a Gold Glove thirdbaseman, but his statistics are not conclusive evidence. Nonetheless, he is a singular bright spot on the infield.
6) Dukes was an average fielder for a while, but by season's end he wasn't. Combine that with his batting problems, and one has to wonder if his off-field baggage really renders him a marginal major-leaguer.
7) Maxwell and Morgan are pretty good centrefielders.
8) Willingham is an enigma. Is he average or not?
9) Rizzo basically traded away his best infield options, where he had a choice, suggesting he doesn't rate fielding particularly highly.

I'll return to the fielding again, but my thoughts are currently moving toward the lineup.

Friday, 9 October 2009

How Clutch Is Ronnie Belliard?

In tonight's game between the St Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers, I found myself rooting for Casey Blake to get on base in the bottom of the ninth just so we could see Ronnie Belliard come up. Washington Nationals' radio listeners will remember the commercial - 'Belliard bats over .300 with runners in scoring position'. (It's currently at .281.) So how clutch is he?

It's well known in the sabermetric world that clutch hitting doesn't exist. Actually, that's not true. Sabermetrics actually argues that by the time we work out whether a hitter is clutch or not, his career is almost over. It takes that many plate appearances to remove the uncertainty. From season-to-season it's not supposed to be a repeatable skill. How does Belliard look on that basis? Is he feasting one year, only to suffer famine the next?

Season-by-season, excluding a 1998 cup of coffee, here's how he did. (Slash line = batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage)

Season totals RISP Close&Late
1999 294/379/429 339/435/527 368/444/500
2000 268/354/389 307/423/474 247/348/289
2001 264/335/443 317/397/475 200/286/260
2002 211/257/287 167/232/200 208/295/264
2003 277/351/409 316/398/439 184/298/265
2004 282/348/425 284/394/454 316/400/453
2005 284/328/450 259/299/468 247/281/461
2006 CLE 291/387/420 269/352/355 320/393/480
2006 StL 237/295/371 192/288/269 125/152/156
2007 290/332/427 267/321/422 311/337/378
2008 287/372/473 305/380/524 200/375/380

When you break it out this way, you see that his record Close & Late is very wayward. Some season's he's hot, others he's not. There's almost no consistent sign of improvement with RISP, either. You could almost argue that he had a talent for rising to the occasion through about 2003, but after that he seems to get worse, until 2008.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

How about New Yankee Stadium?

Back in my misspent youth, a buddy of mine worked out that hitting 20 home runs usually got you a single column on an APBA card with a '1' on 66. So for the rest of my life, whenever a player hits 20 home runs, I always think 'That's a "1" on his card.' (I don't play APBA any more. I went through a Strat-O-Matic phase, and then have been a Diamond Mind-er ever since.)

About a month ago, on Baseball Think Factory, there was a thread about the 1961 Yankees. Don Malcolm, blessings and peace be upon him, made the point (in post 15) that the 1961 Yankees were the first team to have SIX players in the lineup who hit 20 or more home runs.

Then, earlier this week, the New York Daily News published an article saying that the early-season 'home-run glut' had abated, and New Yankee Stadium was in no danger of getting anywhere near the all-time single-season record, set in 1999 by the Colorado Rockies.

Be that as it may, the Yankees currently have SEVEN players in the lineup who hit 20 or more home runs, and actually have a good shot at making it EIGHT. The Captain, Derek Jeter, is currently on 18. So, if you're looking for something to make this final weekend of the regular season interesting, you can keep an eye on this unusual development. Personally, I think it reflects an unhealthy obsession with the home run. Is there anything more boring? Isn't it more exciting to have a single, a walk, a double? Well, I think so.

Since the offensive explosion of the mid-1990s, the most 20-plus homer hitters the Yankees had in their lineup was SIX, in 2004. The most common total of 20-plus homer hitters is only THREE, in 1997 (ALDS), 1999 (Champs), 2000 (Champs), 2003 (AL), 2007 (ALDS). Which is my way of saying, an amazingly powerful lineup doesn't make it easier to win a World Championship. Eight would, however, be a new record.

Trying to Get Back in the Groove

Well, I went home to Blighty for a month and wrote a bit about cricket. I caught a couple of Nationals games via GameDay Audio, but baseball fell off my radar more or less. Then I returned to Canada, and got immersed in the first weeks of the first year of a Ph.D. And then last weekend I went to see the Blue Jays' last home game. At some point that weekend I checked the standings and saw my old home town team, the Detroit Tigers, had an Elimination Number of 7, with the Twins coming to Detroit for four games. So I caught three of them.

So, let's see if I can use these past few days to get me back in the groove of blogging.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Catching Up #3 The Zimmermann Injury

When the Washington Nationals' Jordan Zimmermann was diagnosed as needing Tommy John surgery, I possibly took it more philosophically than other bloggers.

I dealt with Zimmermann's PECOTA comparables before. Two of the three didn't have particularly long careers, and the third, John Maine, is by no means a stud. His ERA+ has been in decline since 2006, and his K/9 since 2007. I suspect he'll join Erik Hanson and Bobby Jones on their career paths, not getting much past 30.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

And We Enter the Rizzo Era

Mike Rizzo has finally lost the 'interim' tag.

I understand that part of the half-year delay in removing that tag must be laid at the feet of Major League Baseball, who insisted on a minority candidate being interviewed. It's at times like that when I wonder whether the owners should think a little more carefully before handing more power to the commissioner's office. To fix any issues about minority representation, it would be better to force the interviews at the stage when Assistant GMs are appointed, and that's something better administered at the League level, not at the Commissioner level.

Rizzo clearly has a sort of organizational philosophy - groundball pitchers, guys who don't make trouble (Dukes' days are numbered, I suspect) and, it appears, a tendency to prefer bats over fielding (which sits oddly with the groundball pitching philosophy). Realistically, we ought to recognize that we're stuck with him and any of his shortcomings for four or five years. Let's just hope those shortcomings don't get in the way of playoff contention.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Catching Up #2 - Nationals' Fielding 'Weekly' #8

Here's the latest fielding statistics for Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Revised Zone Rating (RZR), as I've been keeping them throughout the season. There's loads of stuff I want to say, but if I say too much I'll steal some of my thunder from other 'Catching Up' posts I have planned. So let's try and stick to players still with the Nationals.

Adam Dunn is doing as well as I expected. It's just a terrible mistake to expect him to be a tolerable fielder at 1B. Gonzalez has defied confidence in his glove all year. I'm told Belliard is deceiving me with his good numbers. But, here we are, and there's little alternative to them.

When you think about what the Nationals have now, you'd have to say that overall their fielding is potentially worse than it was in the first half of the season, when it was bad enough. They consequences of various moves has been to upgrade the outfield, but to degrade the infield. Since the outfield was way below average, and the infield only a little bit below, I guess if you were paying the price in one place for an upgrade you'd do it like that. But they didn't. They dealt away better infielders and replaced them with weaker ones. The upgrade in the outfield came independently of the degraded infield.

Guzmán's improvement is their only sign that they might be saved from the potential disaster in the infield. Is he regressing to his true talent level? Or is this a misleading glimpse of sun during a perfect storm at sea? I'm putting my life jacket on, just to be safe.

Player              UZR   Change  UZR/150  Change  RZR   Change   MLBaverage
Zimmerman 12.7 + 3.3 16.9 +1.6 .748 +.008 .715
Johnson - 6.0 + 0.4 - 6.8 +0.3 .770 +.006 .785
Guzman - 4.4 + 1.9 - 3.0 +3.2 .769 +.010 .802
Dunn (LF) -12.4 n.c. -24.3 +0.2 .832 n.c. .889
Hernandez 1.2 + 0.2 2.3 +0.2 .854 +.002 .814
Willingham (LF) - 2.4 - 0.7 - 6.0 -0.8 .919 +.009 .889
Kearns (RF) 1.7 + 0.2 5.3 +1.9 .893 n.c. .905
Morgan (CF) 13.2 + 6.0 35.9 +5.5 .964 +.007 .933
Harris (CF) - 5.1 - 0.1 -16.0 -0.6 .938 n.c. .933
Dukes (CF) - 5.1 + 0.5 -18.6 +1.7 .898 n.c. .933
Belliard (2B) 3.3 n.c. 11.3 -2.3 .893 +.003 .814
Dukes (RF) 0.0 - 0.5 - 1.5 -4.7 .898 -.078 .905
Gonzalez (SS) - 5.8 - 0.6 -26.2 -1.5 .691 -.001 .802
Willingham (RF) - 0.7 - 0.1 -2.3 -1.3 .962 +.002 .905
Dunn (1b) - 7.3 - 3.8 -35.4 -3.6 .536 +.007 .785
Gonzalez (2b) - 3.8 - 2.6 -16.3 -7.1 .757 -.009 .814
Dunn (RF) - 8.3 - 0.9 -38.8 -4.2 .761 n.c. .905

The table is in order of innings played at the position, with the cut-off at 180 innings. The biggest moves, either up or down, in each of the three measures are in bold.

UZR converts fielding statistics into a +/- rating reflecting the number of runs saved or given away. There is a basic version, which is based on the number of innings played by the player, and a normalized version that assumes everybody plays 150 games. It also is forced to sum to zero, so a player can have his UZR adjusted even when he doesn't play.
RZR is like a fielding 'batting average', dividing the number of plays made by the number of opportunities. Unlike old Zone Rating, it excludes plays made 'out of zone'. (Zone Rating divides the field into zones, and assigns responsibility among the players.) For comparative purposes, I've put at the end of each player's line the MLB average RZR for position.

Catching Up #1 - Riggleman's Running Game

What with one thing and another, including a flight back home to London for a month's visit, I've not been tracking the Nationals so closely as before. So, time to catch up on so many things.

Let's start with an observation I noted from last Wednesday's game against the Atlanta Braves. It really relates to Jim Riggleman. 'What a horrible job he was handed. The team was badly built to start and dogged by constant injuries to the starting rotation particularly...' Well, actually, that relates to his Mariners' experience, but it might sound eerily familiar. Tom Boswell, in a chat, had this to say about Riggleman and the lack of aggressive baserunning under Acta: 'But I think Jim wants to fiddle with the lineup, maybe try to use Morgan, Harris, Gonzalez and Guzman to have more of a running game, more hit-and-runs, which he likes.'

If you check that Baseball-Reference.com play-by-play, you'll see in the first inning that Nyjer Morgan was out stealing. He went on a 1-0 count to Guzmán. If the objective had been to get Morgan to second, the fact that Guzmán worked a 4-0 walk achieved the same goal, but by that time it was too late. Worse still, Zimmerman and Dunn both came up and singled, and the Nationals took a 1-0 lead. Except it would have been 2-0 had Riggleman not wanted to 'have more of a running game'.

Unlike the Acta-bashers of earlier this season, I'm not trying to show my contempt of Riggleman in making this point. I merely illustrate that small ball comes with costs, and philosophically some managers think their players make those risks unacceptable. What were the chances of Guzmán getting a walk? Actually, in the second half of the season much better than in the first. He's got 6 walks in 105 plate appearances already, against 7 walks in 323 in the first half.

I wish Riggleman well, but the Actaphobes and their small-ball fetish (and I use the word most precisely) can go to heck in a handbasket, because they are full of muck, for the most part.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009


I've been AWOL not only during the best run of play this season for the Washington Nationals, but also at a time when significant changes have occurred to the roster. It's partly because I've been blogging about cricket, but also tied in with work and an impending trip to London. Why does everything always happen at once?

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Nationals 'Fielding Weekly' #7

This covers more than a week, owing to a delay caused by the SABR annual convention in Washington, D.C. The data is drawn from Fangraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) data and Revised Zone Rating (RZR) at The Hardball Times. I've put the biggest movers in each category in bold.

Not such a strong sign of a 'Riggleman effect' on the fielding after two weeks. For some reason, Dunn looks good in UZR but not so good in RZR. This probably has some connection with different structures to the zones in each. I still believe that it is a mistake to consider Dunn an acceptable Major-League 1B. He does less damage in LF. However, the Nationals are committed to finding out if I'm wrong. Belliard puts up some good numbers at 2B, but that belies the evidence of last year.

Let's assess the UZR effect of trading Johnson and moving Dunn to 1B
Johnson 1B, Hernandez 2B, Dunn LF, Willingham RF  +10.6
Dunn 1B, Hernandez 2B, Willingham LF, Dukes RF + 5.8
Dunn 1B, Belliard 2B, Willingham LF, Dukes RF +17.3

As things stand, the Nationals are liable to be giving away half a win over 150 games with the new alignment, and Hernandez at 2B, or gaining over half a win with Belliard at 2B. Hernandez, however, appears to be the better hitter.

Player              UZR   Change  UZR/150  Change  RZR   Change   MLBaverage
Zimmerman 12.7 - 0.6 16.9 -2.5 .740 -.013 .717
Johnson - 6.4 + 0.4 - 7.1 +0.7 .764 +.004 .785
Guzman - 4.4 - 0.4 - 6.2 n.c. .759 -.008 .803
Dunn (LF) -12.4 - 0.4 -24.5 -1.4 .832 -.017 .890
Hernandez 1.0 n.c. 2.1 +0.1 .852 +.004 .815
Kearns (RF) 1.5 + 1.1 3.4 +4.5 .893 n.c. .907
Willingham (LF) - 1.7 - 0.4 - 5.2 -1.2 .910 +.002 .890
Harris (CF) - 5.0 n.c. -15.4 -0.4 .938 n.c. .933
Dukes (CF) - 5.6 n.c. -20.3 +0.8 .898 n.c. .933
Morgan (cf) 7.2 + 2.3 30.4 +3.9 .957 -.012 .933
Gonzalez (ss) - 5.2 - 0.7 -24.7 -2.2 .692 +.004 .803
Belliard (2b) 3.3 + 1.8 13.6 -6.8 .890 +.001 .815
Willingham (RF) - 0.6 + 0.7 -1.0 +3.4 .961 -.016 .907
Dunn (RF) - 7.4 - 0.7 -34.6 -1.7 .761 +.005 .907
Dukes (RF) 0.5 + 0.7 3.2 +6.6 .960 +.008 .907
Gonzalez (2b) - 1.2 + 0.7 - 9.2 +5.3 .766 -.028 .815
Dunn (1b) - 3.5 + 0.1 -35.4 +9.1 .529 -.016 .785

The table is in order of innings played at the position, with the cut-off at 100 innings.

UZR converts fielding statistics into a +/- rating reflecting the number of runs saved or given away. There is a basic version, which is based on the number of innings played by the player, and a normalized version that assumes everybody plays 150 games. It also is forced to sum to zero, so a player can have his UZR adjusted even when he doesn't play.
RZR is like a fielding 'batting average', dividing the number of plays made by the number of opportunities. Unlike old Zone Rating, it excludes plays made 'out of zone'. (Zone Rating divides the field into zones, and assigns responsibility among the players.) For comparative purposes, I've put at the end of each player's line the MLB average RZR for position.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Sabermetric Christmas

Illness delayed a project to look at the bullpen under Riggleman. Now it'll probably never see the light of day as I'm off to Washington for the annual conference of the Society for American Baseball Research, the sabermetrics' equivalent of Christmas. If I get a chance, I'll blog about some of the things I hear.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Nationals' Fielding 'Weekly' #6

I took a break in posting the Fielding Weekly for the Washington Nationals last week because there had only been four games after the All-Star Break. (Also, I had a lot of work on last week.) This week's figures could be read as giving some support to the notion that Mr Riggleman's new routine is having some effect, nothwithstanding this horror story. The problem with taking that too far is that Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) is not so enthusiastic as Revised Zone Rating (RZR). See an explanation for these stats after the table.

The big movers are Dunn, Dunn and Morgan, which sounds like an old-fashioned firm of stockbrokers. Morgan's really made a big difference, and I wonder if he's responsible for some of Dunn's improvement in leftfield this week. Anyone who tells you to trade Nick Johnson and move Dunn to first base should be shown Dunn's RZR. It makes this grown man cry.

Player              UZR   Change  UZR/150  Change  RZR   Change   MLBaverage
Zimmerman 13.3 + 3.7 19.4 +2.6 .753 +.014 .717
Johnson - 6.4 - 1.8 - 7.8 -1.0 .760 +.008 .783
Guzman - 4.0 - 0.1 - 6.2 +0.5 .767 +.010 .803
Dunn (LF) -12.0 - 0.3 -23.1 +4.3 .849 +.036 .890
Hernandez 1.0 - 0.2 2.0 -0.6 .848 +.004 .816
Kearns (RF) 0.4 + 0.3 - 0.9 +2.3 .887 +.006 .907
Willingham (LF) - 1.3 + 0.5 - 4.0 +1.3 .908 +.003 .890
Harris (CF) - 5.0 - 0.3 -15.0 -0.6 .938 +.002 .933
Dukes (CF) - 5.6 + 0.3 -21.1 +0.7 .898 n.c. .933
Gonzalez (ss) - 4.5 - 1.3 -22.5 -0.1 .689 +.007 .803
Belliard (2b) 1.5 + 2.6 6.8 -0.2 .889 +.020 .816
Willingham (RF) - 1.3 - 1.5 -4.4 -5.9 .977 -.023 .907
Dunn (RF) - 6.7 + 0.1 -33.9 -0.2 .756 n.c. .907
Morgan (cf) 4.9 + 4.2 26.5 +22.0 .969 +.027 .933
Dukes (RF) - 0.2 n.c. - 3.4 +0.1 .952 n.c. .907
Gonzalez (2b) - 1.9 - 1.0 -14.5 -1.5 .794 +.021 .816
Harris (2b) - 2.4 n/a -27.6 n/a .739 n.c. .816
Dunn (1b) - 3.6 - 0.5 -44.5 -1.7 .545 -.055 .783

The table is in order of innings played at the position, with the cut-off at 75 innings.

UZR converts fielding statistics into a +/- rating reflecting the number of runs saved or given away. There is a basic version, which is based on the number of innings played by the player, and a normalized version that assumes everybody plays 150 games. It also is forced to sum to zero, so a player can have his UZR adjusted even when he doesn't play.
RZR is like a fielding 'batting average', dividing the number of plays made by the number of opportunities. Unlike old Zone Rating, it excludes plays made 'out of zone'. (Zone Rating divides the field into zones, and assigns responsibility among the players.) For comparative purposes, I've put at the end of each player's line the MLB average RZR for position.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

So long, Julian

Julian Tavárez, who was really (no, really!) my favourite Washington Nationals' pitcher, has been designated for assignment. People have been a little unfair towards him, as he hasn't been as bad at blowing games as Joe Beimel, but seemed to attract more hostility. Nor do I complain. He's been shockingly poor these last few weeks, finding the plate with difficulty, which is the unforgivable sin in a major-league pitcher. (Kip Wells—another player I liked—got into a similar funk, and was gone even more quickly.) I don't have a positive-scoring outing for him since 27 June.

Ron Villone may be the next to go. The signs are not good. I'd even argue that his stats are worse than Tavárez', although he hasn't committed that unforgivable sin to quite the same degree.

I'm not sure who my favourite Washington Nationals' pitcher is now. Probably Clippard or Mock. Sorry guys.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Zambrano, Ramírez, Fontenot, Bradley

Messing around with the leverage index during yesterday's game and comparing it with the win probability reveals a disagreement. My method of multiplying the 'win value' of an event by the leverage does not have the same results as the win probability effect. Does that mean I'm doing it wrong? Maybe it does.

Player/Event/Inning       WPA        WV*LI
Zambrano/double/2nd 18% 13.9%
Ramirez/homer/3rd 11 4.9
Zimmerman/DP/1st 10 11.9*
Harris/BB/1st 9 7.6
Fontenot/double/2nd 9 8.6
Bradley/GDP/8th 5 7.6

I was a surprised at how the Ramirez homer scored so low in my method, not even as high as the Bradley double play. Curiously, though, it was the point at which the balance of the game shifted towards the Cubs permanently. It may be,in this case, that I'm rating double plays too highly. Are they the same as two outs, or the same as an out plus a caught stealing?
* I'm not sure I call this a double play. I've got two events, the Zimmerman strike out and Morgan being thrown out at third.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

First-Half Nationals' Review: the Pitching

Pitching is 75 per cent of the game. Or something like that. Maybe 52 per cent, but there's some defence in there, too. Actually, where the Washington Nationals and the fabled 'Plan' are concerned, pitching is probably 75 per cent, if not more. As Definitely-Not-Interim-or-Acting President Stan Kasten said the other day, 'It's hard to amass a core of young future starters. That took us time. I've always believed that that was the most important thing, that was Job One.'

And, frankly, it's still a work in progress. There are signs of a rosy dawn in the future, but not necessarily where you'd think. But right now it's still night.

Rather than trot out some traditional statistics, or even some old-fashioned sabermetric ones, I'm going straight to the 21st-century granular approach here. I'm going to talk about LD% (Line-Drive percentage) and HR/FB ratio (home runs as a percentage of fly balls). I'll throw in K/9 and BB/9, just for retro effect.

Basically, LD% has an impact on the batting average by a pitcher's opponents. If the LD% is high, the BABIP (batting average on balls in play) will probably be high, too. Young pitchers who don't make quick progress with getting a high LD% lower are likely to have short big-league careers. HR/FB is pretty constant for most pitchers, so if there's some deviation from the league average there, for a young pitcher it's safer to assume that it will drift towards that league average. Taking the pitchers currently on the 40-man, this is the statistical snapshot.

Starter      K/9   BB/9    LD%   HR/FB
Olsen 6.0 3.6 22.5 13.7
Martis 3.6 4.1 15.4 10.2
Detwiler 5.7 3.8 24.5 5.6
Zimmermann 8.8 2.9 25.3 13.9
Stammen 4.0 1.8 19.1 8.8
Lannan 4.0 3.1 18.7 11.8

League Ave 6.9 3.2 19.2 10.3

Martis, Stammen and Lannan are doing a Mark Fidrych impersonation. If they don't get that K/9 up, their careers will be short. Otherwise, Martis needs to get his walk rate down, and the other two are doing a fine job. You can fit guys like this into the 4 and 5 slots in the rotation, and not complain.

Olsen's a league-average innings eater type, with numbers like that, great for spot 3 or 4 in the rotation.

Detwiler and Zimmermann are supposed to be the future studs. Unfortunately, they look pretty uneven here. Zimmermann's got the Ks, but that LD% worries me. It's remained stubbornly high all season. Detwiler's not quite got the stuff, and also has a high LD%, but something about that line fills me with more confidence that you're looking at a future Scott Olsen type, who might turn into a #2 for a season or two. That's actually pretty good, because one never knows. Sometimes people raise their game even higher. But, being realistic, a young pitcher's best seasons for strikeouts are at the start of their career. Then they go down.

Well, this review is partly about the coming 'Riggleman Era'. My advice? Keep Stammen in the rotation. At one time their was a rumour that he was headed for the bullpen, but he's doing too good a job starting. I think that plan has been set aside with Detwiler's return to the minors, but you never can tell.

As for the bullpen, I'll just go straight to the chart
Starter      K/9   BB/9    LD%   HR/FB
Beimel 5.6 3.8 16.7 6.2
Bergmann 6.2 3.9 23.5 15.3
Burnett 7.1 1.4 11.9 17.0
Clippard 9.0 3.9 10.0 7.8
Kensing 3.6 7.2 29.2 14.6
MacDougal 3.7 7.4 14.3 8.5
Mock 4.2 5.5 10.9 0.0
Tavárez 8.4 6.8 17.2 3.4
Villone 4.9 6.4 20.3 6.2

League Ave 7.4 4.0 18.7 8.8

Well, what a mess. Walks are killing this bullpen. Look at MacDougal, he's got the numbers the wrong way round. 7.4 would be acceptable as a K/9, but as a BB/9 it's a sentence to transportation. Here's where Mr Riggleman has his work cut out for him.

I'd do something like this:

Closer: Burnett
Setup: MacDougal, Clippard, Tavárez, Beimel
Mop-up, Long Relief: Bergmann, Villone.

Villone I'd keep on a short lease. The Nationals have Dave Williams, a former big league left-hander, at Syracuse. If Villone doesn't pick up his game, I'd DFA him and try Williams.

Beimel has tolerable numbers, but his performance doesn't measure up. I believe he's added a few goats to his existing collection.

Tavárez may be done. If he could get his walks down, though, that's a closer there. MacDougal may well be in the same boat, to be honest.

The rest are a bit mix and match at the moment. I have a feeling they are going to miss Kip Wells. He somehow could dial it up for an inning, but he was screwed if he had to go two. Then he got hurt, and didn't come back the same pitcher. They won't miss Kensing, though. Didn't he cost them a real, live player?

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

First Half Nationals Review: The Fielding (incorporating Nationals Fielding Weekly #5)

Probably you'd have to go to some forsaken place that knows nothing about baseball, like Ys or Norumbega to find someone who didn't know that the Washington Nationals had the worst fielding in the National League. If that doesn't make you want to go out and fire someone from their job, you've got no future as a senior baseball executive. Let's hold an investigation. Who is to blame for this sorry situation?

One of the things Bill James learned while inventing Sabermetrics was that a lot of what one perceives as pitching is, in fact, fielding. However, one of the things I've learned is that fielding responsibility is very difficult to apportion individually. There are 'fielding theorists' who argue that you have to start at the level of the player, with stuff like fielding percentage or zone rating. I'm more inclined to see it the other way: you have to start from the top, then start sharing out the blame further down. However, nobody knows the truth! Nothing's been proven! How do you evaluate defensive statistics anyway?

Defensive Efficiency Rating was a Bill James' invention, I think, which basically tells you what percentage of balls hit into play against a team are converted into outs. It's a bit deceptive in that not all balls hit are really playable. This demonstrates that some of what one perceives as fielding is, in fact, pitching. It's useful, nonetheless, in giving a rough idea of one team's defence in relation to another's. By this measure, the Nationals rest at the bottom of the league, with a DER of .695. This is very bad, considering the Dodgers are at the top with a DER of .729. That means out of every 100 balls in play, the Dodgers convert three more of them into outs than the Nationals do. Now, realistically, that means about one ball-in-play per game. But over 162 games that's 162 hits, or worth something approaching one Chase Utley per season. Would you like your pitchers to face Chase Ultey in every game?

The Nationals aren't good at turning the double play (13th in the league). They're good at making errors (1st in the league). They're last in putouts (but 4th in assists—they must like helping old ladies across the street). They're also worst in fielding percentage. And that's about all you can say at the team level.

Well, except the good folks at The Hardball Times have published a team Revised Zone Rating. (Kind of like DER, a rate of converting balls in play into outs, but one that allows for those hard-to-reach balls.) Yes, the Nationals are last, at .809. (But Milwaukee's best, at .860.) However, they take it a step further, and break RZR out into Infield RZR and Outfield RZR. Nationals' infielders manage to be 14th in the league, but the outfield is dead last.

So, I'll conclude this analysis with the current Ultimate Zone Rating* and Revised Zone Ratings by player (minimum 60 innings at position), then tell you what I think Mr Riggleman ought to do.

Player              UZR   Change  UZR/150  Change  RZR   Change   LgMedian
Zimmerman 9.6 + 2.0 16.8 -1.0 .739 -.018 .716
Johnson - 4.6 + 1.8 - 6.8 +3.6 .752 +.023 .778
Guzman - 3.9 - 0.1 - 6.7 +0.4 .757 +.003 .802
Hernandez 1.2 - 0.3 2.6 -0.6 .844 -.002 .813/.801
Dunn (LF) -11.7 - 2.2 -27.4 -4.1 .813 +.001 .865
Kearns (RF) 0.1 + 0.6 - 3.2 +2.4 .881 +.004 .916/.910
Willingham (LF) - 1.8 + 0.4 - 5.3 +1.2 .905 +.003 .865
Dukes (CF) - 5.9 + 0.1 -21.8 +1.5 .898 n.c. .947/.943
Harris (CF) - 4.7 + 0.2 -14.4 +1.0 .936 +.001 .947/.943
Dunn (RF) - 6.8 + 0.1 -34.1 +1.0 .756 n.c. .916/.910
Belliard (2b) - 1.1 - 2.5 7.0 -2.0 .869 -.012 .813/.801
Gonzalez (ss) - 3.1 - 1.1 -22.4 -7.3 .682 -.036 .802
Dukes (RF) - 0.2 - 1.1 - 3.5 n.c. .952 n.c. .916/.910
Willingham (RF) 0.2 - 0.2 1.5 -4.2 1.000 n.c. .916/.910
Morgan (cf) 0.7 n/a 4.5 n/a .938 n/a .947/.943
Dunn (1b) - 3.1 - 1.1 -42.8 -7.4 .600 -.114 .778
Gonzalez (2b) - 0.9 n/a -14.5 n/a .773 n/a .813/.801

Well, really, I don't see what Mr Riggleman can do that Mr Acta hadn't done already, by taking Dukes out of centre and keeping Dunn out of right. Is there any room to improve the infield? Belliard's numbers were good earlier on, but he's been in sharp decline since getting more playing time. Use him in games with flyball pitchers. Gonzalez is sinking like a stone. He's worse than Guzmán now. Nick Johnson shows some improvement this week, balanced by Zimmerman's decline. My one piece of helpful advice—keep Dunn OFF first base. Don't listen to the Sirens calling for Johnson's trade because Dunn can fill in at first. Hecan'thecan'thecan't.
* Ultimate Zone Rating was developed by Mitchel Lichtman, one of the authors of The Book. (See link to blog at left.) It has to sum to zero, which is why players who get no playing time still see their numbers change each week. It's highly regarded, and gives you a number that represents runs saved (the pluses) or given away (minuses).

Monday, 13 July 2009

First Half Nationals Review: The Lineup

So, here we stand, looking forward to the Riggleman phase of the 2009 Washington Nationals. The team is on pace to lose a hundred games, and on a pace not to win more than 50. Teams with that kind of record more than likely have so many flaws that a mere change of manager won't achieve much. de civitate sabermetricarum takes this All Star Break to review the situation that will welcome Mr Riggleman when he gets back to work. Since there are conveniently three days between now and the return of the team to action, I've divided this survey, like Gaul, into three parts: the lineup, the fielding, and the pitching. What has Mr Riggleman got? What can he do about the areas that need work?

This survey of the batting isn't going to focus on players so much as the lineup. Comparing this to the league will, one hopes, indicate how it contributes to this losing season so far. In spite of an offense not being too bad, in relation to the rest of the league, the Nationals aren't winning. They are not short of baserunners, as the team OBP is second in the league. But it seems that these opportunities are not being converted into enough runs. We know that lately the Nationals are leaving a lot of men on base. In the 86 games played so far, the Nationals have left 699 men on base. Is that a lot?

The National League team with the lowest percentage of its baserunners scoring is San Diego, which has only managed to put 12% of them across the plate. They've left 613 on base. But they also have the fewest number of baserunners to begin with. The best team at driving them in is Colorado, with 16% of baserunners scoring. They've left on base 612 runners. The closest in total number of baserunners with a batter at the plate is the Mets, with 2235 to the Nationals 2317. The Mets have left 660 runners on base. So, the short answer is, yes, 699 is a lot.

Looking at the batting order, and using Runs Created per 27 Outs, the old Bill James formula, we get the following for each batting order position:
1st     4.17
2nd 6.87
3rd 5.67
4th 7.48
5th 5.46
6th 4.16
7th 3.76
8th 4.72
9th 1.83

That leadoff number is a bit of a shocker, isn't it? The leadoff spot's OBP is .317, worse than any other spot except the pitcher's and the guys who have batted 7th. So, chances are there's one out by the time the better performing slots of 2 and 3 get to the plate. It's absolutely vital to get the first man at bat on base to maximize the chance of scoring runs. However, the chances are the leadoff man will only leadoff one or two innings.

Let's do this another way, and track the OBP and SLG of the Nationals' batting order against the league average:

Spot Nationals League
1st .317/.372 .327/.383
2nd .416/.429 .348/.413
3rd .363/.477 .373/.490
4th .384/.541 .351/.472
5th .352/.489 .337/.433
6th .337/.347 .332/.403
7th .310/.379 .316/.399
8th .348/.369 .328/.377
9th .256/.251 .247/.262

Here's another question for you: where do you think the Nationals rank in the league in slugging? The answer is 6th. Pretty good, but when you compare the slugging by batting order, an interesting pattern emerges. The Nationals' slugging is concentrated in a handful of spots in the order. They beat the league average at the 2nd, 4th and 5th, but are behind elsewhere. An awful lot of the Nationals' slugging is tied up in Adam Dunn. The rest of the lineup, with the exception of the 5th spot, is hovering around league average or, in the case of spots 6 and 7, a worryingly amount below.

I think we have an answer here as to why the Nationals are leaving so many men on base. The production is too concentrated, rather than being spread around the lineup. Adam Dunn, with the lion's share of plate appearances in the 4 slot, can't carry the team on his own. That's something Riggleman needs to fix. Sadly, I don't see a solution on the team at the moment.

Manny Acta Fired

The Nationals have fired Manny Acta.

My first reaction is a 'so what'? The team is in such a mess that firing the manager is probably the daftest thing one could do. No bullpen, shockingly bad fielding, inability to drive the runners in - these are not things that a manager can do much about. Those all reflect the personnel who are assembled by the general manager.

On the other hand, Mr Acta did make some queer decisions sometimes. His eagerness to play the infield in, for example. And sometimes you wonder if his bullpen management made matters worse.

I might write some more about this later, once I've finished the mid-season analysis I've started. But I might not.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Hilaripus projection from 2002

Looking at Baseball Prospectus from 2002, one finds this projection (a 'Wilton' in the parlance of the day) for Jose Ortiz: .330/.385/.534.

Ortiz was traded from Oakland to Colorado in 2001, after putting up a horrendous .167/.217/.167 in 46 plate appearances.

In Sacramento, before going to the Rockies, he put up .273/.345/.449

Once in Colorado, his line read .255/.314/.495 in 224 plate appearances.

So where did the .330/.385/.534 come from? Well, for that you have to go back to 2000, in Scramento .351/.408/.575. At age 23. In over 500 PAs.

The thing is, this looked way out of line with his production in Vancouver in 1999: .284/.346/.483

Eyeballing the lines, you'd have asked him to do that 2000 season over again before you gave him full credit. Yet the fact is, if you just weight the lines appropriately, and throw in a boost from Coors, you probably would get a .919 OPS.

I wouldn't like to say we've advanced so far in projection that such an error couldn't occur again. I suspect it has something to do with just automating a lot of calculations, and not checking what might appear anomalous. I don't doubt, regardless of whether the formulae are better, that a lot of these outcomes just get spat out of the computer still. But maybe they check them more.

Oh, Ortiz' real 2002 line? .250/.315/.313. In Coors. In 215 PA.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Nationals Fielding Weekly #4

There's no real pattern I can see to the figures this week. Using Ultimate Zone Rating, a method for converting fielding chances into a +/- runs figure, which is complex and is adjusted according to how other players perform as well as to the peculiarities of the park, the non-Zimmerman infield improved sharply. The same sort of applies to Revised Zone Rating, which gives an average like batting average. However, UZR suggests the outfield play deteriorated. As far as I can tell, which isn't very far, these adjustments relate to some of Harris's play, some of Dunn's play and, on the infield, some of Zimmerman's play.*

'Median' refers to the zone ratings at the midpoint of the National League RZR chart at that position. I've put those players who are fielding above this level in bold.

Player UZR Change UZR/150 Change RZR Change Median
Zimmerman (3b) 7.6 - 1.2 17.8 - 3.9 .757 -.018 .709-.701
Johnson (1b) -6.4 + 0.5 -10.4 + 1.5 .729 +.011 .781-.776
Guzman (ss) -3.8 - 0.9 - 7.4 + 6.3 .754 +.011 .807-.793
Hernandez (2b) 1.5 + 0.6 3.2 + 1.2 .846 -.010 .820-.806
Dunn (lf) -9.5 - 3.8 -23.4 - 9.7 .812 +.006 .873
Kearns (rf) -0.5 - 0.3 - 5.6 - 0.4 .877 +.002 .912
Willingham (lf) -2.2 n.c. - 6.5 - 0.1 .902 +.002 .873
Dukes (cf) -6.0 n.c. -23.3 + 0.4 .898 +.001 .944-.942
Harris (cf) -4.9 + 0.9 -15.4 + 8.4 .935 +.010 .944-.942
Dunn (rf) -6.7 - 0.2 -35.1 - 1.4 .756 n.c. .912
Belliard (2b) 1.4 - 0.2 9.0 - 0.8 .881 -.012 .820-.806
Gonzalez (ss) -2.0 n.c. -15.1 + 0.4 .718 n.c. .807-.793
Dukes (rf) 0.9 + 1.1 - 3.5 + 9.1 .952 +.005 .912
Willingham (rf) 0.4 n/a 5.7 n/a 1.000 n/a .912
Dunn (1b) -2.0 - 0.1 -37.4 - 0.6 .714 n.c. .781-.776
Maxwell (cf) 1.9 + 0.1 36.9 + 1.7 .833 n.c. .944-.942

* As I've said before, I don't think UZR is really designed to be used in this way. It's more of an end-of-season thing. The best it can do in-season is give a guide as to who is the most valuable fielder on a team, and how he is doing relative to other fielders at his postion.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Adventures in Independence Day Leverage

Yesterday's game is what baseball is all about, for me. The score wasn't too high, the game was dominated by pitching, and neither of the two contending teams gave up on the game.

During the game, I performed an exercise of calculating Leverage x Win Value in order to create a number that would represent the value of each event to winning the game. Instead of using the run value of each event, I used the win value as detailed in Tango, Litchtman, Dolphin's The Book. (Run values are used in the famous linear weights formula devised by Thorn and Palmer in The Hidden Game of Baseball.)

It was an interesting exercise, because it highlighted how a well-timed single can be far more valuable than a home run, and why on-base percentage is more valuable than slugging.

Dunn's home run in the bottom of the 7th, leading off, was worth 14.76 per cent of a win. But Zimmerman's single in the bottom of the 8th was worth 24.78 per cent of a win. Even Dunn's single in the next plate appearance was worth more than Dunn's homer, at 15.96 per cent of a win. By the time we get to Willingham's single, the cumulative effects of the runs scored up to that point have substantially reduced the leverage, and he only gets 4.62 per cent of a win.

The reason is the multiplier effect of leverage. The base runners and the differential in score added up to making those 8th-inning situations of greater significance. A typical linear-weights formula wouldn't have captured this, and just awarded Dunn a 1.44 runs for his home run and 0.44 runs for each of the three singles. Furthermore, it also accounts better for the effect of piling up baserunners, each additional runner pushes those already on base closer to home plate. Bard would not have scored from first on any of the Zimmerman-Dunn-Willingham hits; he had to get to second.

On another matter, anyone following this game would think bunting was a brilliant strategy. A bunt made the Braves' first run possible, and a bunt arguably resulted in the Nationals' being in a position to tie the game quickly, although in the subsequent walk meant the bunt really had no effect. I'm not trying to argue the point, just observing that in this game bunting worked.

Finally, I'm awarding a Hero of the Day to MacDougal, for defending the lead in the top of the 9th.

Primer Cross Post: No to Trades for Trading's Sake

This article in the Washington Post generated this thread on Baseball Think Factory. I've posted an adapted version of my comment here.

I don't see the point of trading a veteran simply because he's got trade value. What you get back is equally important. Either it helps you or you don't do the deal.

Everyone wants the Nationals to trade Nick Johnson and to move Adam Dunn to first base. Dunn has shown no greater ability to play that position than left-field. If anything, he's looked worse. Johnson's injury history is going to count against him in deals, reducing his value to quarters on the dollar. And it's not as if the Nationals have a sure-fire can't miss long-term replacement in the organization.

Nobody talks about Cristian Guzmán much for reasons that are not quite clear to me, but appear to be related to fielding. Are these the same people who want to move Dunn to first? The Nationals actually do have a replacement in the organization for him, although it's a definite downgrade - Alberto Gonzalez, the former Attorney General. He definitely doesn't hit as well as Guzmán, and his fielding seems to be about the same.

The Nationals do have a surfeit of corner oufielders, including the aforementioned Dunn, but only Josh Willingham is at all marketable, unless someone wants Dunn. Nobody accepts Elijah Dukes' good behaviour represents a genuine conversion. (We'll know when they do when we start seeing articles about it in the paper.) Austin Kearns is playing too badly for his contract.

The Nationals have no depth anywhere else, except young pitching. If I were them, I'd see what I could get for Stammen or maybe Balester. But that would probably be an older guy like Nyjer Morgan again.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Manny Being Manny, Jesus Being Jesus, Adam Being...

Yesterday's game was a return to the bad old days of the middle of May. You remember that awful stretch, surely, when the offense was firing on all cylinders, but could not rely on any part of the pitching game (nor fielding for that matter). Actually, I wouldn't blame you if you'd chose to forget.

OK, so let's dissect this a bit.

1. Ross Detwiler stunk. This was without doubt his worst outing since he was brought up. He gave up too many hits, and the only other game where his control was as poor was the 14th June one. Shairon Martis was doing better than him just before he got sent down. Having said all that, my inclination is to give him one more outing. He's got a pattern of following two poor starts with a good one.

2. Let's see, top of the seventh, Jesus Colome trying to defend a tie with runners on first and second. Villone's warmed up in the bullpen, switch hitter at the plate. I remember thinking, 'don't do it Manny, bring in Villone'. Oh well, we know how that ended. Not that Villone would have been much of an improvement, lately...

3. ...as we saw in the very next inning. Villone loaded up the bases. The only out he got was given to him by a sacrifice bunt. I'm not sure how much I blame Villone/Tavárez for the run that came in, though. Villone was ordered to walk Escobar. Tavárez then walked in a run, what proved to be, in the end, the winning run. I think Mr Acta sometimes doesn't help his pitchers, because he gives them no room for mistakes—like not knowing the umpire's strike zone yet. Really, though, although I'm a fan of Tavárez, running through a sequence of Colome/Villone/Tavárez is just asking for trouble.

4. So, then, the Nationals' rally. And Adam Dunn is up. And he pops out! But that's Adam, what the English call a 'success or bust' player. I don't blame him for that. Adam's a very good player to me, with an outside chance at the Hall of Fame. He's got a better eye than most umpires. I've been doing some fiddling with the idea of Leverage, that each given plate appearance has a multiplier that indicates how significant it is. This one was very high, and Adam gave away about ten per cent of the game with it.

For me, the turning point of the game came on that intentional walk to Escobar. Mr Acta has a right to leave Colome in there, and not expect him to give up a home run. He has a right to expect Dunn (or Bard, who made the final out, and also gave away about ten per cent of the game) to come through in the clutch. He doesn't have a right to load the bases for a new pitcher. That's asking a heck of a lot.

Mr Acta has got a reputation as a sabermetric manager, but I think he sometimes overmanages. This is one instance where it bit him. (Unless, of course, it was Riggleman's suggestion.)

Effect on
Pitcher Win Expectancy
Colome -.624
Villone -.140
Tavárez -.081
Clippard -.052
Beimel .010
Burnett .044

Friday, 3 July 2009

Bullpen Tragic Week

The curse of the Nationals' bullpen struck again this week, as they proved unable to defend leads or even to keep the team in the game.

27th June

Pitcher Win Expectancy
Beimel -.213
MacDougal -.075
Tavárez .054

28th June

Pitcher Win Expectancy
MacDougal -.103
Beimel -.053

29th June

Pitcher Win Expectancy
Villone -.554
Tavárez -.177

30th June

Pitcher Win Expectancy
Beimel -1.155
Clippard - .163

1st July

Pitcher Win Expectancy
MacDougal -.661
Burnett -.308
Tavárez -.285

I've only awarded Goat status in losses, but making good leads into precarious ones really does deserve some kind of notice, so I've posted the evidence here.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

The "Big Trade"

When the Nationals acquired Nyjer Morgan yesterday, the reaction from the sabermetric community was almost unanimously negative towards the move for Washington.

Thus Dave Cameron at Fangraphs writes on the trade between the Washington Nationals and the Pittsburgh Pirates. (The comments are pretty good, too.) I'm a late ballot, but count me as a sabermetric community member who thinks the trade was a good one for Washington.

The big negatives directed at the trade can be reduced to two elements: Lastings Milledge's potential and the idea that Joel Hanrahan can be a good reliever.

I've not seen Milledge play, having last season been following the Detroit Tigers. I've heard of his reputation among the sabermetric community for a couple of years now, but he's a former New York Mets' prospect, and my empirical observations lead me to find Mets' prospects are routinely overhyped. I have, however, seen Elijah Dukes play. I like Dukes. He's not particularly fast, having trouble with the initial acceleration. Consequently, he routinely has problems on the basepaths and in the field. However, he's got an accurate, strong arm. He's a solid, if unspectacular hitter. He'll do in rightfield.

What the Nationals need is a centrefielder who will make up for the defensively challenged Dunn in left and Dukes' mediocrity in right. The Nationals' outfield is a bigger problem than the infield, and easier to fix. As Dave Cameron's defensive analysis illustrated, Morgan is probably about average in centre. This is an improvement and an important one.

Hanrahan is indeed a pitcher with potential, but his experience this season in Washington has just destroyed him. The fans appear to despise him, and management has lost all confidence in him. He may indeed have lost confidence in himself. No lead is safe with Hanrahan on the mound.

The thing is, going forward the Nationals have placed all their bets on a young starting pitching rotation. Tearing up their confidence by having bad defence in the outfield and a bullpen that can't hold a lead is probably the biggest failing of the current roster. Getting rid of Hanrahan and improving the outfield defence are actions that fix the problem. Milledge was surplus to requirements, unless the sabermetric community thinks that it was better to keep Milledge than Dunn. Maybe that's what they do think. But none of them have really addressed this point, that the Nationals have a surplus of corner outfielders. Isn't that what a good GM is supposed to do? Deal from a surplus to fix a problem?

A hearty 'well done, Mr Rizzo' from this corner of the sabermetric community.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Nationals' Fielding Weekly #3

This week's chart is less exciting than last week's and just shows how Ultimate Zone Rating is rather opaque on a week-to-week basis. (I don't think it's designer, The Book author Mitchel Lichtman, intended it to be used the way I am doing.) Revised Zone Rating, meanwhile, shows that the good play in the outfield has continued, although the gains are not as dramatic.*

The story of the week is really the flubs on the infield. The only infielder to post a gain this week was Adam Dunn, who got a few innings at first base after Nick the Sick was hit by a pitch. I've already highlighted an error by Zimmerman in one of my Goats of the Day presentations as having played a significant part in a defeat. That, to me, has taken on symbolic status of how the significance of fielding remains a subject for debate. The average sabermetrically inclined person (i.e., me) can wonder whether the real fault lay in the inability of the Nationals to score runs up to that point? Or was Zimmerman's fielding muff the real culprit in a collapse in morale? Or was it Jesus Colome? Inquiring minds, blah, blah, blah.

Player UZR Change UZR/150 Change RZR Change
Zimmerman (3b) 8.8 + 0.4 17.8 - 1.2 .757 -.010
Johnson (1b) -6.9 - 1.0 -11.9 - 0.6 .729 -.004
Guzman (ss) -2.9 - 2.0 -13.7 - 2.1 .743 -.004
Hernandez (2b) 0.9 - 0.7 2.1 - 2.2 .856 -.006
Dunn (lf) -5.7 - 0.8 -13.7 + 1.2 .806 +.006
Kearns (rf) -0.2 - 0.5 - 5.2 - 0.9 .875 n.c.
Willingham (lf) -2.2 - 2.1 - 6.4 - 7.2 .900 +.020
Dukes (cf) -6.0 n.c. -23.7 - 4.5 .897 n.c.
Harris (cf) -5.8 + 0.1 -23.8 + 4.6 .925 +.013
Dunn (rf) -6.5 - 0.2 -33.7 n.c. .756 n.c.
Belliard (2b) 1.6 - 0.5 9.8 + 3.4 .893 -.011
Gonzalez (ss) -2.3 - 1.0 -19.1 - 7.2 .718 -.012
Dukes (rf) -0.2 - 1.5 - 3.5 -14.1 .947 +.009
Dunn (1b) -2.0 - 0.1 -36.8 +10.7 .714 +.114
Maxwell (cf) 1.8 - 0.1 36.9 + 0.5 .833 n.c.

* I really ought to introduce a table showing an average RZR score at each position. I've got acres of space on the sidebars I'm not using.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

The Stalking Goats

23rd June - Goat Award #19
Reliever            Effect on 
Win Expectancy
Colome -0.480
Tavárez -0.382
Wells -0.138
Villone -0.100
(Zimmerman -0.056)
Hanrahan 0.000

24th June No awards, Stammen hit hard

25th June - No awards, Zimmermann given big lead

26th June - Goat Award #20

Reliever Effect on
Win Expectancy
Hanrahan -0.258
Villone -0.039
Colome 0.000

Call me guilty of playing favourites, but I adjusted Tavárez' effect on Win Expectancy, taking away the cost of an error in the game of 23 June. The fielding muff was charged to Ryan Zimmerman and led to the Red Sox getting a baserunner after Tavárez got the first out in the eighth. Thus, Colome gains yet another Goat award. So does Hanrahan. That's what shocks me about designating Kip Wells for assignment. I had Colome pencilled in as first to go. Does he have pictures of somebody?

It may seem harsh to give an award for yesterday. As you can see,looking at the effect Hanrahan and Villone had on Win Expectancy, there actually wasn't much of the game to lose. Looking at the context, the Washington Nationals' hitters failed against Brad Bergesen, and cost them a win. Nonetheless, I was particularly outraged by Hanrahan's inability to hold down the opposition lead to two runs, in a low-scoring contest. The hitters may have been failing, but no need to take the rug out from under them like that.

I'm preparing a set of 'Goat of the Day' standings, but I won't post them until the next off day. As you might imagine, its a close race, and there's a surprise there for the moment.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Nationals' Fielding Weekly #2

Everybody asserted that the Nationals' broke their losing streak because they made more of the plays in the field they should have done. I'm not going to report that this is wrong; it's very right. Here's some numbers, showing Ultimate Zone Rating, Ultimate Zone Rating Adjusted to 150 Games (both from Fangraphs), and Revised Zone Rating (from The Hardball Times). I've also put in columns showing the changes from last week.

Player UZR Change UZR/150 Change RZR Change
Zimmerman (3b) 8.4 + 0.4 19.0 - 0.9 .767 -.004
Johnson (1b) -5.9 - 0.5 -11.3 + 0.9 .733 +.002
Guzman (ss) -4.9 + 0.1 -11.6 + 1.0 .747 +.006
Hernandez (2b) 1.6 + 1.2 4.3 + 0.1 .862 -.006
Dunn (lf) -4.9 - 0.3 -14.9 + 1.6 .800 +.031
Kearns (rf) 0.3 + 0.3 - 4.3 + 1.6 .875 -.004
Dukes (cf) -6.0 - 1.6 -23.7 - 4.5 .897 -.014
Willingham (lf) -0.1 - 0.1 0.8 - 0.7 .880 n.c.
Harris (cf) -5.9 + 1.3 -28.4 +14.5 .912 +.018
Dunn (rf) -6.3 n.c. -33.7 + 0.1 .756 n.c.
Belliard (2b) 2.1 + 0.1 13.2 + 0.2 .904 n.c.
Gonzalez (ss) -1.3 - 0.2 -11.9 n.c. .730 +.008
Dukes (rf) 1.3 + 0.5 10.6 + 6.9 .938 +.038
Maxwell (cf) 1.9 n.c. 36.4 + 0.5 .833 n.c.
Dunn (1b) -1.9 n.c. -47.5 + 0.1 .600 n.c.
Harris (2b) -1.7 n.c. -36.8 + 0.1 .733 n.c.
Milledge (cf) -0.5 - 0.1 - 9.4 - 1.0 .727 n.c.

Some notes.
1) UZR adjusts for other players and shows a +/- in terms of runs; RZR does not and works like batting average. That's why people who didn't actually play still get adjustments. It would help to know average RZR at each position, but instead you'll have to look at UZR to get an idea of how good they are relative to their peers.
2) In spite of all the noise in certain broadcasting quarters, the Nationals' problem with the leather was not on the infield, but the outfield. The top three RZR gains are all from outfielders. Result = 4 wins.
3) Dunn, Harris, Dukes, reading left to right, is probably the first-choice outfield at the moment. KEEP DUKES OUT OF CENTRE IF AT ALL POSSIBLE.
4) Gonzalez, given more playing time, hasn't risen to the occasion. I'd be inclined to abandon my 'groundball pitcher = Gonzalez at short' theory.

Bullpen Awards of the Week

Hmm, I'm not keeping pace with the 'scores on the doors' here.

12th June - Goat Award #15
Reliever            Effect on 
Win Expectancy
Hanrahan -0.348
Beimel 0.025

13th June - Goat Award #16

Reliever Effect on
Win Expectancy
Bergmann -1.194
Colome -0.055
Tavárez 0.092

14th June - Goat Award #17

Reliever Effect on
Win Expectancy
Villone -0.650
Beimel 0.057

16th June - Goat Award #18

Reliever Effect on
Win Expectancy
Villone -0.825
MacDougal -0.204
Beimel 0.027

17th June - Hero Award #2
Reliever            Effect on 
Win Expectancy
MacDougal 0.225

18th June - Hero Award #3

Reliever Effect on
Win Expectancy
Tavárez 0.101
Beimel 0.059
MacDougal 0.047
Villone -0.034

19th June - Hero Award #4

Reliever Effect on
Win Expectancy
Hanrahan 0.442
Beimel 0.149
Colome 0.149
Tavárez 0.092
Wells 0.065
Villone -0.405

20th June - Hero Award #5

Reliever Effect on
Win Expectancy
MacDougal 0.298
Tavárez 0.296
Colome -0.108
Wells -0.186
Hanrahan -0.401

June 21st" - No awards. (Martis roughed up.)

A bad week for Ron Villone, and from outhouse to penthouse and back again for Hanrahan, but four Hero awards versus four Goat awards, though no more than .500 ball, is an improvement on what we've been used to. I'll be back later today with the fielding weekly.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Primer Cross Post: The Chaos Theory of Sabermetrics

I've decided to cross-post some of my contributions at Primer to this blog. That way I can keep better track of some of my important reflections.

Brian Joseph, who may have been involved with Baseball Prospectus Idol (which I didn't follow, I think the whole idea of 'Idol' is stupid), made a stab at attacking sabermetrics here. It's a pretty poor effort, to be brutally honest; but I think I see where he's going with it. He wants more granularity in sabermetrics. A Primer discussion broke out here.

The most misguided point of Joseph's argument is here:
The notion that sabermetrics is truly objective is silly when there are a number of ways to “objectively” look at a situation statistically depending on your subjectiveness toward the game.

This statement is, I believe, based on a misunderstanding of what it is to be objective. And all the rest of the article's problems arise from here. I suspect that if 'objective' was replaced with 'scientific', the author would not have misunderstood. 'Scientific' refers to a method, nothing more, so history can be scientific. Sabermetrics sometimes is not purely scientific. (Think of James's 'subjective factor' in the New Historical Abstract.) But that's rare.

Joseph then wanders into various specific examples, which unfortunately don't clarify the matter. One problem is that 'neo-sabermetrics', to borrow a term from Don Malcolm, is concerned with evaluating True Talent Level. Joseph is arguing that on a day-to-day level, True Talent Level doesn't actually explain very much. Well, anyone who thought about the matter probably knew that already. But True Talent Level isn't the only way to use use sabermetric studies.

It's always worth reminding ourselves that Bill James didn't start from wanting to know how good players would be, but rather how good they had been. Malcolm and some other members of the Big Bad Annual (BBBA) crowd, which included Primer's own Jim Furtado, were sort of feeling around the theoretical foundation that the game, not the season, is the cornerstone of performance analysis. Then BPro's great success and certain unprofessional characteristics of BBBA strangled that initiative, not quite at birth, but in late childhood. However, many of those basic concepts are still out there. James himself gave us the Game Score for pitchers, but I don't find that helpful. I don't want a number in that way, I prefer the categories of the Quality Matrix. The same with the idea of Leverage for bullpens. Leverage, and the related Win Expectancy, can tell us everything we need to know about what succeeded in a victory or what failed in a loss. Start totting that data up in columns and there's a handy explanation of a team's strengths and weaknesses.

Pecota, Zips, Chone and Marcel are great tools, but they are literally only half the picture.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Nationals' Fielding Weekly #1

In two earlier posts, I outlined the sorry state of fielding by the Nationals. Some of the problems in holding a lead are related to the difficulty the fielders have in preventing hits and their propensity to make errors. Although media attention has focused on the infield, the real problems appear to lay in the outfield. The infield is hovering close enough to the league average to make it tolerable. (An exception could be made for Cristian Guzman, who is poor; anyone for shortstop practice?)

It might be a good idea, since this blog is turning gradually into a Nationals' blog, to look at this more systematically, rather than just when some mediot starts yapping. In that spirit, I'm going to start monitoring fielding on hopefully a weekly basis, in order to spot any trends. There are two measures at the moment that are easily available and make use of play-by-play data. Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), published at Fangraphs, and Revised Zone Rating (RZR), which can be found at the Hardball Times. For this exercise, I'm going to make use of both UZR and UZR/150. (The latter is an extrapolation of existing data for 150 games.) UZR/150 is good for getting a sense of 'true talent'.

So, here's the ratings for all players who have played at least 40 innings on defence at a given position. They are ranked in order of innings at position.

Player UZR UZR/150 RZR
Zimmerman (3b) 8.0 19.9 .771
Johnson (1b) -5.4 -12.2 .731
Guzman (ss) -5.0 -12.6 .741
Hernandez (2b) 0.4 1.5 .856
Kearns (rf) 0.0 - 5.9 .879
Dunn (lf) -4.6 -16.5 .769
Willingham (lf) 0.0 1.5 .880
Dukes (cf) -4.4 -19.2 .911
Dunn (rf) -6.3 -33.8 .756
Harris (cf) -7.7 -42.9 .894
Belliard (2b) 2.0 13.0 .904
Gonzalez (ss) -1.1 -11.9 .722
Dukes (rf) 0.8 3.7 .900
Maxwell (cf) 1.9 35.9 .833
Dunn (1b) -1.9 -47.6 .600
Milledge (cf) -0.4 - 8.4 .727
Harris (2b) -1.7 -36.9 .733

Why 40 innings? Because I wanted to demonstrate that trading Johnson and moving Dunn to first-base is arguably not a good idea. (Dunn has played 44 innings at first.) Johnson is enough of a handicap at first. Why make it worse?

It's harder to make sense of RZR unless you know what the league average is at each position. Maxwell's relatively low RZR yet excellent UZR reflects his ability to get to balls out of his zone. The same also applies to Gonzalez at shortstop.

As far as fielding goes, this is the lineup I'd want to see based on current personnel in the system:

1b Johnson
2b Hernandez
3b Zimmerman
ss Gonzalez with a groundball pitcher, otherwise Guzman
lf Dunn
cf Maxwell
rf Dukes

As you can see, the odd-men-out here are Willingham and Kearns. If either can play some first, that would be a big help because it would then make more sense to move Johnson in a trade. Kearns is probably worthless on the market given his current problems hitting. Putting a bat like that at first isn't really worthwhile, either. He's a fifth outfielder as things stand. Willingham might have some value, but I don't know if it's all that much. Could he play first? His bat won't give away quite as much as Kearns's would.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

St Claire vs McCatty - Some Data

So, on 2 June 2009 Randy St Claire was fired and replaced by Steve McCatty. There's been some favourable comment about the new regime — allegedly pitching has improved. The trouble with making direct comparisons of 'St Claire 2009' with 'McCatty in the Big Leagues' is that McCatty is working with significantly different personnel over a shorter period of time. So, before it's too late, I decided to take a look while the names they both had to deal with were much the same.

From 2nd June to today is about the same length of time as from 20th May to 1st June. (In fact, McCatty has had an extra game in that time.) By 20th May, Daniel Cabrera had been removed from the rotation, and Scott Olsen was on the disabled list. The youngsters Stammen and Detwiler entered the rotation and have remained since. The bullpen hasn't change dramatically, with Kip Wells going on the disabled list. So 20th May to 13th June involves much the same personnel.

First, let's use the old Big Bad Baseball Annual Quality Matrix (QMAX) to analyse the starters. (I like QMAX, because it actually uses individual starts, as opposed to lumping everything together, and offers a more nuanced picture than the Quality Start.)

Coach       Success (Elite 
Square Square) Hit Hard ---
St Claire 3 0 5 2
McCatty 6 2 1 2

The Elite Square is a subset of the Success Square, so don't add those together. In this case, it's a solid win for McCatty. This makes sense, after a fashion, because St Claire built his reputation working with veteran pitchers, and suddenly there weren't any in the Nationals' rotation. McCatty's more 'instinctual' approach might work better than St Claire's 'technical' methods with younger pitchers still learning the broad principles of pitching.

For relief, I took two elements. The Win Expectancy (WE) situation when the relief pitcher entered the game, and the net plus/minus after comparing the ideal result (no change to the leader's advantage in runs if the change occurs at the start of an inning; or, if the change is made mid-inning, all batters faced make outs) with the actual result.

Coach      Average WE             WE       WE+
at entry effect
St Claire .254 -1.378 -1.79
McCatty .330 -3.230 -2.49

The WE+ is an attempt to translate the win expectancy effect to a common standard. The problem with the raw numbers is that the better performance of the starters under McCatty mean there is more win expectancy to lose than there was under St Claire. (Think of it as a reliever having an 8 per cent better chance of entering a close game under McCatty; there's just more win expectancy to lose to begin with.)

Basically, the bullpen under McCatty is having an even more difficult time than it was under St Claire. Some of that may be down to the fielding. If you take away the 12th June game, lost in part by Nick Johnson misplaying a foul pop-up, the WE+ number comes down to -1.88. Maybe the difference isn't so big.

On balance, from this evidence, the improvement in the rotation probably justifies the switch from St Claire to McCatty. I'd go so far as to say that a pitching coach really must stand or fall on how effective the rotation is.