Graphs, Hitters, Pitching

How Consistent are Baseball Players?

Batting averages, on-base percentages, and ERA are all standard metrics used to compare baseball players. But how do they help us to determine a player’s day-to-day production? I wanted to look at two player’s overall game performance over the course of 100+ starts. Let’s begin with Albert Pujols.

I think it would be an understatement to say Pujols has been the most consistent hitter in baseball over the past 5+ years. He’s a sure bet to be in the MVP talks from the beginning of each season. I decided to look at his Win Probability Added per game (a plus WPA means he added towards winning the game, while a negative WPA suggests a player was detrimental to the winning cause) over the 2010 season.

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Defense, IceBat

Gold Glove Nonsense

So…I was having a pretty good day, woke up, had some coffee, some class, relaxing before a midterm, midterm went well, excellent meal with my one and only, HIMYM, and then one of those naps where you don’t feel entirely groggy/sluggish after waking up (ie – the best kind). And then I turn my head to the daily baseball headlines and find that the Gold Glove Awards, an award for the best defenders in the game (or so you would like to think) for the AL were announced:

NEW YORK (AP)—Seattle right fielder Ichiro Suzuki has won his 10th straight Gold Glove and New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter has won his fifth overall…

I find it a little hard to believe that Derek Jeter was able to win this award, for the second time in a row. All the news sources point to his efficiency with only 6 errors over the year. Well what about those balls that he couldn’t possibly get to, considering his limited range (meaning he just can’t get to balls that are farther away the way other start shortstops can)? Those balls get scored as hits rather than “Balls Jeter couldn’t get to”.

Also, any advanced defensive metric out there these days answer many questions that can lead us toward comparing fielders. Like how much ground is a shortstop able to cover? Is this due to great timing/instinct or great footwork? How accurate is his arm? How many runs can he save over the course of the year? In any of these metrics, you will find Derek Jeter at the bottom of the list. Guaranteed.

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Fantasy Baseball

My Fantasy Team 2010

Hey folks. Just like last year, I wanted to give a review of my 2010 team, thoughts on the draft process, as well as trends I saw over the course of the season. If you need a refresher on fantasy baseball, refer to last year’s blog post.

IceBat’s End of the Year Roster:

C – Carlos Ruiz (Phi)

1B – Joey Votto (Cin)

2B – Howie Kendrick (LAA)

3B – Scott Rolen (Cin)

SS – Elvis Andrus (Tex)

OF’s – Carlos Gonzalez (Col), Andrew McCutchen (Pit), Delmon Young (Min), Jay Bruce (Cin), Dominic Brown (Phi), Magglio Ordonez (Det)

SP – Ubaldo Jimenez (Col), Zack Greinke (Kan), Trevor Cahill (Oak), Justin Verlander (Det), J.A. Happ (Phi/Hou), Phil Hughes (NYY), Brian Matusz (Bal), Chad Billingsley (LAD)

RP – Rafael Soriano (TB), John Axford (Mil), Luke Gregerson (SD)

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Defense, Pitching

Batting Average on Balls Put in Play

First, I’d like to give an obligatory hat tip to the San Francisco Giants for winning the World Series against the Texas Rangers, 4-1. Despite my inner-feelings to not root for you (due to my allegiance to the A’s), that was one of the best pitching performances of post-season history, probably since the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks. Despite losing, Texas has a lot to be proud of. They continued to play their type of baseball day in and day out.

The subject for tonight’s post is a metric not many casual baseball fans know of: batting average on balls put in play (or from hereon, BABIP). It essentially answers the question, out of all the balls a player hits that are field-able by the defense, what percentage of balls will fall for a hit? Note, this is different from a regular batting average, which includes strikeouts and home runs.

Baseball statisticians love this metric because, for obvious reasons, pitchers are not always in control of the amount of hits they allow in a game. There’s just too many factors that can affect the outcome of a hit: Hard line drives are caught by diving center fielders, a bloop single can fall between defenders, ground balls can barely get past the glove of an infielder. When these ‘are you serious?’-hits are allowed, we kind of assume tough luck has graced the pitcher. And when we see excellent defensive plays, we think the pitcher is lucky and fortunate to have player X in the outfield. How many times have you seen this happen in baseball games? Too often.

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Stop Praising Brian Sabean

Sorry but I’m a little tired of hearing how Cody Ross was a brilliant move by Brian Sabean, the General Manager of the Giants. I’d like to note the obvious before I ramble: no one expected half of the production that Ross has given the Giants while on his way to win the NLCS MVP award. I’m not doubting his production or anything.

What I am doubting is the good foresight by Sabean in acquiring Ross. If you don’t know, the Giants got Ross by claiming him off waivers from the Florida Marlins. Waivers works in a way that any team can claim the player, but the waiver is awarded to the team with the worst record, who is also in the same league. For example, if a winning-record team from the NL claims Ross and so does a losing-record team from the AL, the waiver is still awarded to the team from the NL. That’s just how the system works. At any rate, I find it hard to believe Sabean claimed Ross on the belief he was going to go on a rip in the playoffs. The Giants didn’t even need an outfielder, as they had a lot of depth at the position. So why do it?

For one Sabean had to know the San Diego Padres were interested in acquiring Ross. The simple fact is Sabean blocked the Padres from getting the guy (since the Padres at the time had a better record than the Giants).

I’ll admit this was a fantastic move if you’re playing chess, or you’re studying game theory. But please don’t praise Sabean for his foresight, as this required none of it. I think any businessman would have done the same thing: block your competitor from receiving the right supplies. Simple as that. Now I have little proof that the same thing occurred with Pat Burrell, but the Giants definitely lucked out with Burrell feeling allegiance to his hometown team (Burrell grew up in San Jose, CA).

This is another reason why I think the Giants are astonishingly lucky this postseason, offensively. While I admit they are on a tear right now pitching wise, and they look pretty good in the World Series, please don’t praise Brian Sabean for the great luck that has blessed the city by the bay.

Note: I covered instances where random role players have given their teams enough offense to win games in the postseason, but none as wild as Ross, who has only been with the Giants for 2 months, while those other random MVP-winners were with clubs the entire season.


Starting Your Best Player, Third

I wanted to get this post out before the start of tonight’s game 6 game consisting of New York trying to force a game 7 against the Texas Rangers. There was an article on Fangraphs (that you can find here) last week discussing the effects of starting Cliff Lee (the Ranger’s best starting pitcher option) in games 3 and 7 (in game 7, if the series goes that far). A lot of writers have been chiming in discussing how starting Cliff in those games puts Texas at a disadvantage, since the game 7 start is not guaranteed. Thus the disadvantage stems from sending the best pitcher in the postseason out only once.

To summarize the article, Dave Cameron points to the idea that, assuming Cliff can win both his starts, the Rangers need to find ways to win at least two non-Cliff Lee games. Winning these games is independent of when Cliff Lee starts. Albeit, pitching match-ups are important, the message is still clear and simple: the Rangers still need to win two non-Cliff Lee games.

This discussion got me thinking more broadly about the psychology behind 7 game series.

The fact is most people view the goal of a 7 game series is to win 4 games first. Through the first 4 games of both championship series, teams were up 3-1. And then in game 5’s, both series went to 3-2. While most fans believe there’s bad history in clinching a series, the fact is the order of games won doesn’t matter. Each game is independent. For example, coming back from a 3-1 deficit to win a series would be the same as teams alternating wins to force a sudden death game 7. Maybe hearts are broken in the former, but the outcome is the same. All I’m trying to say is if New York or Philadelphia end up going to the world series, don’t be too sad, Texas/SF fans that your team couldn’t just win one more game. The order of the games won shouldn’t matter.

I think to prove my point, series would have to be played through 7 games, no matter if a team wins the first four (or any other combination of wins-losses that doesn’t force a game 7).

But the mentality of being one win away from advancing can be pretty heart-breaking when you still don’t advance. But I just don’t see the necessity in calling it ‘bad history’ when games are won independently of each other.


Why the Yankees dominate Minnesota

As a fan and statistician, it is upsetting to think about the past 4 times Minnesota has played the Yankees in the playoffs. They have not one a single game against those Bombers; nothing to show or prove to fans of their successful season. A big fat zero in the win column. As Fangraphs points out, it’s almost illogical that one team can dominate like this over a span of 5+ years. The turnaround from each year’s team essentially makes each playoff match totally different from the year’s past. The only thing associating each year’s team together is team location and mascots.

So what’s the deal, Twin city? There one thing I noticed when watching the recent ALDS between the two teams.

It was obvious this team was scared from the seventh inning on. You could see it in how they played, and how commentators continually associated the bottom of the ninth with Mariano Rivera. Honestly in the post-season, I can see why such a reputation can be pretty intimidating. Especially with his manager’s low tolerance for trouble even in the eighth, he will turn to Mariano. So even if you muster a hit in the eighth, Joe Girardi will with no doubt bring out his big guns. Thus I don’t know how Minnesota could muster uup confidence in those situations. We saw it in the first two games. Minnesota blew a lead in the 6th, 7th innings, and couldn’t find their way out of the deficit. The Yankees are in the Twinkie’s heads. Better yet, Mariano Rivera is in the heads of the Twins.

And maybe this team is just too young. In the beginning of the year, i thought they were going to be great, anchored by a pitching staff including coming-of-age aces Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey. I still think fondly of these pitchers, but apparently they weren’t good enough to be slotted into the playoff rotation. Maybe we just haven’t seen the best of this Twins team. Better yet, we know each year’s team is drastically different, so why not be hopeful that the 2011 Twins > 2011 Yankees? It can happen.