Monday 31 July 2017

Tigers 2017 Game 103: Iustinus tactu

We last saw our heroes in action with Justin Wilson (now a Cub) on the mound earning what would prove to be his last save in a Tigers' uniform.

On Sunday, two Justins helped make the Houston Astros heartily sick of hearing that name. (St Justin Martyr, by the way, was an important Christian apologist in the second century AD, in case you were wondering.) The new-style 'bend-don't-break' Justin Verlander 'twirled', as the old chaps would say, six decent innings. Justin Upton meanwhile scored two runs and drove in four more.

All this came as a surprise to me. In the third inning the failure to score off three hard-hit balls in the third inning -- courtesy Justin ('ITNA') Upton, Miguel Cabrera and Nick Castellanos -- put me in mind of the Kinsler catch on Saturday, as an omen. In this case, where the Kinsler catcher foretold ultimate success, the three clouts warned that all might not be well. Instead it perhaps foreshadowed Lance McCullers being sent to the disabled list.

In the end, despite some hard graft in the early innings to force across a couple of runs, the Tigers ran away with this one. So, next time people tell you 'The Tigers ought to rebuild' after that horrific showing against the Royals, just point out how close they came this weekend to sweeping the team with the best record in the American League.

QMAX rating, Justin Verlander, Success Square.
Batting win values: 
Machado       0.099
Iglesias      0.094
Cabrera       0.042
McCann        0.042
J-Upton       0.033
Avila         0
Adduci        0
Mahtook      -0.023
Romine       -0.032
Castellanos  -0.060
V-Mart       -0.126

Sunday 30 July 2017

Tigers 2017 Game 102: ad subsidium jaculatorum exspectantes

Despite the win, Collin McHugh proved too much for the Tigers on Saturday. Tigers hitters had to wait for the Astros' relievers to begin their stints on the mound in order to make progress. Thankfully, another decent start from Matthew Boyd kept the team in the game long enough that the bats were able to put this one in the win column, as Joe Angel might say. Boyd, though, did not put in a great performance, in that he was pounded for eight hits (although one demanded a replay review in the first to get the safe call). The home run by Evan Gattis in the first in particular deserved the adjective 'shot'. I just lost the ball in the bright sunlight as the camera tried to track its course out of the ballpark.

The day began with the news that Alex Presley had been put on the disabled list (and would be receiving an MRI), leading to Jim Adduci being called up to play rightfield. That change might have hurt the Tigers, as my memory is that Adduci doesn't quite have the range of Presley. Jake Marisnick’s single in the top of the 2nd might have been run down by Presley. Adduci is a big man, and to my eye it doesn’t look like he moves as fast.

For me, the catch by Ian Kinsler in foul territory -- in the stands really -- in the eigth inning was the moment at which I knew the game was one the Tigers ought to win. That kind of concentration suggested the team's spirit has not been crushed by the loss the day before, nor by some other heartbreaking, soul-destroying moments in the past week.

Let's remember, whatever has happened since, that this club was on the verge of being four games out of first in mid-July, with plenty of games left. This is a team capable, on paper. of getting into the playoffs. But it does highlight how much falling a game short last season was a lost opportunity.

Random notes:

-- 6.10 pm Saturday starts are really bad for visibility. No more, please.

-- Kirk Gibson, during the television broadcast, noted that Richie Hebner suggested hitters look bad early in the count so that you could get that pitch later and punish it. I'm going to remember that one.

-- It could only occur to a film buff like me, but when I squinted I thought the Astros' Luke Gregerson looked like a young Jean Reno, French star of films like Leon: The Professional and Ronin.

QMAX rating: Matthew Boyd, Soldier of Fortune/Tommy  John
Batting win values:
Iglesias      0.192
V-Mart        0.164
Cabrera       0.034
Castellanos   0.016
Kinsler       0.007
Mahtook       0.007
Adduci       -0.012
J-Upton      -0.031
Avila        -0.221

Saturday 29 July 2017

2017 Tigers Game 101: Boo-ruce!

Pity poor Jordan Zimmermann. He has been having a difficult time for two seasons, and yesterday he did all one can ask a starting pitcher to do, deliver a Quality Seven-Inning Start. A starting pitcher's job is to keep his team in the game, preferably with the lead. Job done, Jordan!

The Tigers' hitters could have done a little bit better, but through seven they were doing just enough. Even Miguel Cabrera broke out of his slump in one plate appearance, hitting a home run in the 5th.

Sadly, though, one has to issue a Goat of the Day Award, because Bruce Rondon couldn't get any of the first three batters out. Dink, dink, DONG! Cabrera managed to convert a foul pop by Yasiel Gurriel into an out, allowing Rondon to claim a third of an inning.

The fans at Comerica were annoyed enough to boo Bruce. But I'd rather lose like this than by umpty-teen runs, and a position player on the mound.

QMAX rating: Jordan  Zimmermann, Success Square
GotD Award: Bruce  Rondon, -.563 win value. 
Batters win values:
Machado        0.053
V-Mart         0.034
Mahtook        0.011
McCann        -0.018
Cabrera       -0.049
Romine        -0.065
J-Upton       -0.073
Castellanos   -0.094
Kinsler       -0.235

Friday 28 July 2017

2017 Tigers Game 100: in tertia, campanam anulerunt

This blog had its origins in a season I spent following the 2009 Washington Nationals for a time. I was doing an MA in Ontario, and the sacking of Jim Bowden just as spring training began drew my attention to a train wreck about to happen. Despite the horror story that unfolded that spring and summer, I had a lot of fun playing around with the data.

So after 100 games, it feels as if the Tigers are worse than my memory of the 2009 Washington Nationals because of two recent blow-outs against Kansas City.

I decided to check.

On record alone, there's no contest.

2017 Tigers 45-55
2009 Nationals 32-68

It was at about this point that my engagement with the 2009 Nationals would end, as I was about to travel back to England to spend August with my wife and daughters. The 2009 Nationals would 'improve' in the sense that they would finish 27-35, or a .435 winning percentage against a .320 winning percentage after 100 games. The Tigers' current .450 winning percentage is better than either.

But, of course, the Tigers have been getting beaten in blow-outs you know, that's why this feels worse.

Let's see how that stacks up. The definition of a blow-out is a defeat by five runs or more.

Through 100 games in 2009, the Nationals had lost sixteen such games.

The 2017 Tigers have lost... sixteen such games. But, in fairness, that's a higher percentage of losses (29 per cent to the 2009 Nationals' 23.5 per cent). Some of that has to be down to the DH rule increasing run-scoring. How much? I dunno and I don't think I care. Someone could either deduct one from all the Tigers' losses or add one to the 2009 Nationals' losses to get a vague idea, I would think.

So, possibly it's the proximity of two such heavy defeats by the Royals in the past two weeks. And here I think I am going to be critical of the Tigers' management.

On 20th July, the Tigers played very badly in the first inning of a Michael Fulmer start. They then recovered some ground as Chad Bell pitched 2 1/3rd innings of solid long relief. However, in the third inning of his stint the Royals handled Bell's offerings quite roughly.

On 26th July, the Tigers kept the game within reach through six, in no small part due to 2 1/3rd innings of solid long relief from Chad Bell. Bell comes out for the third inning and BOOM, he gets cracked like his cousin Liberty Bell giving up four hits and a hit-by-pitch putting the game almost out of reach. (Warwick Saupould would come on after Bell had hit Alex Gordon and make sure of that.)

Letting the same thing happen within a week strikes me as some inattentive management, but I'm just some humble blogger. I am very supportive of Brad Ausmus as a manager, but in this case the fault is plainly his.

Of course, there are other issues, such as Mikie Mahtook getting doubled off first by Jorge Bonifacio or the aforementioned fielding disaster on 20th July in which I'm not sure I have enough fingers to point at the culprits.

But Wednesday night's bell-ringing could have been anticipated simply by remembering what happened last time.

Saturday 24 October 2015

Palmer on DiPS

Pete Palmer was interviewed in April of this year, and was asked about Voros McCracken's Defence-Independent Pitching Statistics. Palmer is arguably the most important sabermetrician OF ALL TIME. Certainly his only rival is going to be Bill James, so reading Palmer's comments on DiPS theory, which James himself regarded as important, makes an interesting comparison and contrast.

James referred to McCracken's work in the New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (p 885):

3. This knowledge is significant, very useful. 4. I feel stupid for not having realised this thirty years ago.
Palmer, however, has a very different take on the matter.
I didn’t have a lot of faith in [DiPS]....[McCracken] said there wasn’t a great amount of correlation from season to season. But as I said, the variations due to chance and everything in sports, baseball in particular, is a lot higher than people think. Your average could drop 60 points from one year to the next, and it’s not really statistically significant because 500 at-bats isn’t that many at-bats to verify what your current batting average should be.
Whether this opinion is rooted in statistical analysis or not, it does conform somewhat with the analysis provided in "Solving DiPS", a compilation of an on-line discussion which you can find a copy of here. One key solution in "Solving DiPS" is that, given 700 Balls in Play, some 44 per cent of the outcomes are a consequence of random variance, the single largest factor. (Pitchers were assigned 28 per cent, fielding 17 per cent. Hold that thought for a moment.)

I have seen it suggested that Palmer does not understand DiPS, which has become a tool for projecting a pitcher's future. But from the perspective of evaluating a pitcher's season, Palmer's lack of "faith" makes more sense. BABIP's variance is irrelevant, because it is in the nature of the game. What is important is to convert extra-base hits into singles, and singles into outs.

When you don’t look at walks and strikeouts and home runs, you’re actually minimizing a difference between a good pitcher and a bad pitcher. And therefore, the gap in that category is going to be artificially low because some of the factors that would make it higher are not counted.
In other words, we shouldn't be surprised that pitchers appear to have limited or no control over the outcomes of balls in play. That has never been where the difference has been visible in the small sample size of a single season.

Finally, to return to those percentages from "Solving DiPS", what might be surprising from the traditional reception of DiPS is that pitchers have more control over the outcome than fielders. So, again, perhaps we should be a bit more sceptical, like Pete Palmer, of those making grandiose claims for DiPS. Insofar as anything has control over the outcome of the batted ball, it is the pitcher. Random variance in its nature is uncontrolled.

Thursday 22 October 2015

Oh, the Humanities

As I tweeted a week or so ago, this was a good season for the part of me that is a Tigers' fan to miss. I have been dealing with a return of my wife's cancer (the outlook is not great but, as the last lines of the original theatrical release of Blade Runner go, "I didn't know how long we had together... Who does?"), in addition to moving house (and changing countries). However, I accumulated a few bookmarks and other ideas to work through, especially now we can only watch other teams in the post-season.

While I was busy, a very important blog post was made back in May. Phil Birnbaum, who is nothing if not insightful in writing about sabermetrics, announced that dWAR, a measure of fielding value, seemed to him to have a significant problem. Birnbaum proposed that dWAR inherently overvalued fielding. Birnbaum's argument is rooted in mathematical accuracy, so I don't feel confident trying to explain it. If you haven't read the post already, you should go to his blog to read how he explains it.

However, his explanation boils down to three key points, if we focus on the effects:

a) the runs allocated to the fielders under dWAR are too high, by an order of around fifty percent. (So a team dWAR of -40 is actually more like -20

b) The cause of this is that when one assumes "certain balls in play are the same" (as one has to do with older baseball statistics) then the math sends all the credit to the fielders.


"Observations are a combination of talent and luck. If you want to divide the observed balls in play into observed pitching and observed fielding, you're also going to have to divide the luck properly."
Here, I think, we run into the problem of "All things being equal", or the distinction that the philosopher of history R.G. Collingwood made between meteorology and chemistry. It is an essential fact of human life that all things are NOT equal. People working in meteorology can collect observations of events, but cannot reproduce them at will, unlike people working in chemistry. By contrast, the historian can observe events, but they cannot create political or social crises at will, nor send qualified observers back into the past in order to collect the information needed to understand those events in the way scientists might send an expedition to view an eclipse or collect specimens. In scoring a baseball game, at best a sabermetrician can be a weatherman.

One can take issue with the statement "the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on 28 June 1914 triggered the First World War" as one of causality, but without doubt the shooting set off a diplomatic crisis that led to the war. More importantly, luck played a crucial role in the event because the Archduke's car came to a complete halt very close to where the "Yugoslav nationalist" Gavrilo Princip, had stationed himself. An earlier attempt to kill the Archduke in a moving car had failed. We have no idea whether Princip could have been successful if his targets had been in a moving car. So, what percentage of responsibility to the war do we assign to Princip, to the driver, to the governor of Bosnia at whose orders the driver stopped, to the Serbian officers who conspired to arm Princip, to the Archduke or to the general diplomatic situation? And any formula that did allocate "responsibility shares" to these people would be essentially an act of faith.

Birnbaum went on to add some further details to his understanding in a threat on the blog of Tom Tango, the tremendously influential pseudonymous saberist. In the comments section of Tango's thread on the post by Birnbaum, Birnbaum suggested in one reply that it was just not possible for a system like Defensive Runs Saved or Ultimate Zone Rating to make distinctions about balls in play that could tell us something about the skill of the fielder.But before that he stated that he wanted to assign the luck to the pitcher. However, reading the comments there is to venture into a world where something like the Responsibility Shares is thought to be possible. Possibly, with enough computing power, such things can be made for evaluating baseball players. But I can't help but think the effect will be small.

To reduce Birnbaum's position down, what he thinks is that about half of the dWAR effects at the team level need to be transferred from the fielder to the pitcher. Another way to think about it is that he wants a cap on the amount of Runs Allowed value distributed to the fielders. But this would also have effects on how we value players. A quick-and-dirty method would be to halve the UZR assigned to any player when calculating their WAR, although I suspect Birnbaum would object on the grounds that something true at the team level may not be true at the level of the individual player.

Monday 20 April 2015

2015 Tigers' Series #4: potentes Cespedes

Ave Yoenis! What do the two Tiger victories in the weekend series against the Chicago White Sox have in common? Home runs by Yoenis Cespedes. They also have in common excellent pitching, from David Price and Shane Greene. Meanwhile, Saturday's blow-out loss featured very poor pitching. Even the bullpen gave up three runs in the first two innings after Anibal Sanchez was knocked out of the game. Once again we see Brad Ausmus a bit reluctant to go the pen, although he may have been trying to eke out enough innings from Sanchez to keep some relievers in reserve for the series with the New York Yankees.

Cespedes has now improved his Steamer projection to a wRC+ of 122, up three runs on what was forecast before the season. However, more importantly, shortstop Jose Iglesias has raised his wRC+ projection to 96, from 81. Almost all of the projections for Tigers' hitters are up, but Iglesias' improvement is the most dramatic. Of course, the season is long, and much can go wrong between now and October. Iglesias fine start is based on an outrageously unsustainable BABIP of .459. (It is worth noting, however, that JD Martinez' BABIP is an equally implausible .212.) However, one can't take away those ten wins from the Tigers. The Tigers went 10-2 where pre-season projections implied a 7-5 or 6-6 record. Tigers' fans should be happy, and send positive feelings toward a team that is doing them proud.

Numbers indicate what percent of a win a player added over the series with his bat, based on Run Expectancy and Leverage of plate appearances.

Player               Win Value Added
Yoenis  Cespedes       .987
Jose  Iglesias         .407
Anthony  Gose          .183
Nick  Castellanos      .163
James  McCann          .021
Andrew  Romine         .000
Hernan  Perez         -.005
Miguel  Cabrera       -.039
Rajai  Davis          -.090
Victor  Martinez      -.095
Alex  Avila           -.127
J.D.  Martinez        -.323
Ian  Kinsler          -.523