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 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.