Monday February 23, 2004
Mailbag: SABR vs Traditional
When I wrote my thoughts on SABRmetrics vs Traditionalists, I really just wanted to point out one fact. SABRs (and myself) believe that the RBI statistic is incredibly overrated because it dependent on a number of other factors that are out of the control of the hitter. I wanted to argue that the Walk is also very much dependent on others, aside from the hitter. Some of those being: The pitcher, the umpire, the catcher, runners on base and who bats after him.
The posting created a lot more response than any other postings I had done in my eight-plus months of writing. I was out of town from Friday morning until Sunday evening, so I am going to let you, the readers, write my column for today. As I’ve said before when I’ve done these Mailbag episodes, I figure it is only fair because you read my thoughts every day, so it’s good to get your thoughts out there for the world to see too!
So, let’s get right to it.
From Joe Cuchna:
Naturally, I have to respond to this. I will comment on the last part of "Is a walk as good as a hit," focusing on your last scenario of 2nd and 3rd where you would rather see a hit than a walk. No doubt that a hit scores two runs, but think of this, what if there were nobody out! That changes the quote even more, now you have three guys on, no one out, and the pitcher is sitting up there going "How am I going to get out of this!!!" (I have been there) If there are two outs, a hit is much better because a walk doesn't really hurt the pitcher, especially if a weak hitter is coming up next. But, it there is nobody out, now a walk becomes great especially if it is followed by another walk. If you do get a hit, now you have the same scenario, 2nd and 3rd, with the potential of a huge inning. It would be hard to argue either way but one point should also be considered, baseball is all about situations. (which is why the game is so great) So, in my opinion, as for your original inquiry, stats or traditionalist, I would like the person that has some ability, but I think they should put in there hitting or making plays in the clutch, when it really matters, because that is what makes great players great.
From Tom Grout:
First of all I agree with you on all the stat stuff. I think there is something to it and could be helpful and interesting, but sometimes it can really be over done. It's like the Bible. If you want to prove some sort of point you can pick words or sentences in there to help your cause, but if you don't read the whole book the point is useless. Same as looking at statistics. You can study all the stats you want but if you don't look at the whole ball player they are useless. I am from the "old school" because I am old. Statistics are a tool and a good tool but until you have actually watched the player play and really know what he is like personally the stats could very well be useless or at least misleading to his value to a team.
Is a walk as good as a hit? As far as walks affecting a players performance or worth I will let the stat geeks figure that one out. As far as walks affecting a certain game’s outcome, it depends on the situation as you pointed out. But I can give you my general opinion of a walk through the thoughts of a coach, player, or pitcher. As a coach a walk <upsets me>. I want my pitcher to give his fielders a chance to get that hitter out. A walk is the pitcher’s error or mistake. It is a gift to the other team. In any competitive sport too many gifts or mistakes will usually cost you the game. As a defensive player a walk has put even more pressure on myself to make a play because now there is someone on base, one that should not have been there. When the pitcher walks a guy or maybe walks a couple of guys in a row it usually puts the defense on their heals which doesn't help. As a pitcher, a walk just puts more pressure on me to throw a strike. With the fact that I just let my teammates down by walking the last guy the pressure of throwing a strike is heightened, along with the fact my coach isn't a happy camper either. Add this to the fact that I think the umpire screwed me on a couple of calls so now I'm mad at him too.
So if I'm on the offensive side of a walk, generally, it is a good thing. To score you need base runners and a walk is a base runner. Granted , as you pointed out, a hit would maybe be more valuable than a walk in a certain situation, but as a rule any coach whose team is on the offense will gladly take as many walks as the defense is willing to give them.
I know the stat geeks are laughing at me now but a lot of the stat geeks out there never played much baseball or never coached it. My opinion comes from a guy who has played and coached in more games than Alex Rodriguez has dollars.
Keep up the good work Seth. I like your blog because you don't go into every stat. Just enough to make a good converation.
Come on, Seth. You are doing exactly what Plaschke did: writing an article for the purpose of stirring up controversy. I do consider myself a stathead, although I'm not fanatical about it like some are. But I can tell you are creating a straw man (and I don't mean Darryl Strawberry). No stathead I am aware of, from Bill James on down, has ever said: "A walk is as good as hit!" Indeed, no one who knows anything about baseball would say such a thing. First of all, you'd have to amend it to: "A walk is as good as a single!", since extra base hits are obviously more valuable than walks or singles. Second, you'd have to modify it further to read: "A walk is as good as a single, provided the bases are empty!" (You could also say: "A walk is sometimes as good as a single when there are runners on base!" But as soon as you add the qualifier "sometimes" you are also implicitly saying "and sometimes NOT". If A is sometimes as valuable as B (but never more valuable), and sometimes NOT as valuable, then A is NOT as valuable as B. That's not sabermetrics; that's Logic 101.)
Every stathead worth his salt knows that, on average, a walk is worth 0.20-0.30 runs, while a single is worth 0.35-0.45 runs, depending on the run environment. Note that the ranges don't even overlap, so even a walk at Coors is worth less than a single at Comerica. So how could anyone equate the two?
Of course, as noted above, there are some situations where it is entirely appropriate to say: "A walk is as good as a single!" or even "A walk is as good as a homerun!" (Score tied, bases loaded, bottom of the 9th, is the obvious example.) Baseball is a game of situational probabilities, and the ultimate measure of success are Wins, not Hits or OBP or even Runs. Keep that in mind and you will always know whether "A walk is as good as a hit!"is true or false.
Later, he wrote back with a couple of great suggestions of places to find such statistics. Those interested in such things should definitely check them out!
If you don't mind hanging out with statheads for a while, here's a suggestion. Go to BaseballPrimer.com and click on Primate Studies. From there you can check out various sabermetric articles and discussions, or you can go directly to Tangotiger's website. He's probably done as much as anyone to quantify the value of the base on balls (and singles and doubles and just about everything else). You could spend the whole weekend just checking out his research. But that's not the main reason I'm recommending his site. Page down through his Index to a section labeled Wins - Evaluation Metrics near the bottom. The 2nd item listed is an article entitled "The Base on Balls" you've simply got to read. It just goes to show even Branch Rickey was a Johnny-Come-Lately as far as this "new" science of baseball statistical analysis is concerned.
From Dick Allen of Dick Allen’s Baseball Blog
I think you make some good points, but missed one important thing (at least I think you missed it): a walk has a lot more to do with the hitter than it does with the things you mention (to an extent). If a pitcher throws Barry Bonds or Frank Thomas a ball that's two inches off the plate they don't even flinch. Ted Williams would be happy about this, because this was what he preached years ago in his famous book on hitting. Alfonso Soriano and Garrett Anderson would swing at that pitch. Fine. The trouble is that Soriano will also swing at a ball more than two inches off the plate. A pitcher can bounce him a curve and he'll still take a swish.
The whole deal with walks isn't walks themselves, but controlling the strike zone... what you alluded to with Mientkiewicz. If a hitter is in control he won't swing at bad pitches, and thus, when he does swing, he's swinging at pitches in his zone and they're likely to go a lot further. Sammy Sosa realized this a few years ago and look what happened.
Sabermetricians (I think) see walks as a by-product of this control, not as a goal in themselves. That's the trick. The walk itself is talked about so much because until recently so many people thought that walks just happened when pitchers lost their control. Sure, there's something in that, but if it was completely true most hitters would walk about the same amount, and they don't. For years, guys like Roy Cullenbine, Gene Tenace and Ed Yost were seen to be somehow lacking in their games... walks weren't even counted for batters in the papers I don't think. Retrospectively, we can tell that these guys were very very valuable players, who were hugely under-appreciated. Adam Dunn's kind of the same, he walks a phenomenal amount, but with that crazy power he's still a good hitter. Yeah, maybe he is too patient, but if he ever hits close to .300 you're looking at MVP numbers.
As for a walk being as good as a hit, well no, that can't be literally true can it?... but walks are very useful anyway, particularly in wearing down starters and getting to the bullpen.
You probably know most of this anyway, just my take on things.
From Ryan Maus
Seth- I thought I would just drop you a line to tell you that I find myself in a nearly identical position as you when it comes to this debate. Because I gained my love of baseball from my dad, who as a coach is pretty traditional in his mindset. I never paid much attention to OPS or OBP, instead focusing on other statistics that seemed more meaningful. Then, I read "Moneyball" and really became aware of this other "counter-culture" that exists within baseball. I happen to think that your "on the fence" outlook is actually more common than it seems. Even Billy Beane himself is not as extremist as some of the stat-heads "Moneyball" has spawned. More traditional GMs like Terry Ryan still place a lot of value on stats. I think that it is the extremists (and there seems to be quite a few of them in places like the DTFC forum!) who have it wrong. In my opinion, SABRmetrics should serve to compliment traditional baseball knowledge, not replace it.
From Justin Ahern
I lean towards the side of sabermetrics on this debate. The primary reason for this is because that is the easiest way for me to measure performance, but I think that it can vary from person to person. The reason that it is easier for me, is because it is easy to "prove" that one player is better than another. It is very difficult for me to assess the overall value of a player using traditional statistics without looking further into them. You used traditional statistics to compare Jacque Jones and Garret Anderson. In this example, it is easy to compare these players using traditional stats because they are similar types of players. They have similar strengths and weaknesses and it can easily be seen in traditional statistics. If the Twins were offered Garret Anderson for Jacque Jones in a trade, you can plainly see that they would be getting a player who is a little older, a little better, but otherwise quite similar. I wouldn't do it just because of the age difference, but you have all the information necessary to make the decision in front of you using traditional stats.
The problem with traditional stats arises when you are comparing different types of players. What if the Twins were offered Bobby Abreu for Jacque Jones with the Phillies paying part of Abreu's salary to make the money come out even? I would say that the Twins should jump all over that deal because Abreu is a better player by a pretty good margin. Here's where traditional statistics fall short. Here are the traditional stats for the 2 players per 162 games for their careers:
This shows that they are two player with similar power with Abreu hitting for a little better average and driving in a few more runs. That can be attributed to Jones batting leadoff for much of his career. But, if you look a little further, you will see that Jones has hit 291/332/465 for his career while Abreu has hit 306/409/513. I think that it is much easier to see what makes Abreu more valuable. He draws walks which causes both his OB% and SLG% to go up since he uses fewer outs. If you look even further, you will find that Jones has 83.54 runs created per 162 games while Abreu has 121.01 Runs Created per 162 games. That is a very large margin that can't be seen with traditional stats. Bobby Abreu has also averaged 26.35 win shares per 162 games while Jones has averaged 16.36 per 162. That is also a substantial margin.
Obviously the question isn't whether one method provides more information than the other because sabermetrics clearly provides more information. The question is which method is more accurate because that is the clear objective here. The objective of evaluating players is to be accurate, not overwhelming. When I first asked the question about who was better between Jones and Abreu, I figured that it would be Abreu by a comfortable margin. Traditional stats show that to be true by a slim margin. When you look further into sabermetrics, you see why Abreu is really a better player.
As always, you can post as much or as little of this as you please.
From Scott at Yankees, Mets and the Rest
I'd put it this way:
1. A walk is precisely as good as a hit in the most important way: no outs are spent in that plate appearance.
2. A walk is *usually* better than a hit when it comes to wearing down a pitcher. There are generally more pitches thrown in "walk" plate appearances than in "hit" plate appearances.
3. A hit is better in just about every other way. Total bases for the batter, runner advancement, the chance for something to go wrong in the field, resulting in unexpected benefits.
So yeah, I'll take a hit over a walk.
I'm guessing your responses will be 100% "A hit is better." I think you'd get a more split reaction if you asked which was better between a definite walk and definite hitter contact. Some will take the contact and risk the out-potential, in exchange for the extra-base and advancement potential. I'll take the definite walk.
From Rob Letterly, The Uncouth Sloth -
Tradition!! Just like the dude from Fiddler on the Roof.
From Kirk Beller -
I was thinking about your post today, and it made me think of my biggest problem with BDs (Beane disciples): the refusal to use the hit and run or the bunt or any of that kind of stuff because it's a waste in the big picture to give up an out when you could have another guy come up to bat. I guess this goes back to the whole runs scored vs. runs allowed thing over the course of a season. I understand the Pythagorean standings and how those runs allowed values can help one to predict how a team might finish.
However, I think there are points in the game where it's extremely important to go up to the plate with a plan that is based on the game situation. Sometimes the Twins need one run late in the game to tie it or take the lead. I'm not concerned about them getting 4 at that point. I'm willing to see them burn an out to get a guy moved over from second so that he can score on a sac-fly. If the score is tied in the bottom of the 9th, I want the twins to score that one important run somehow, and I want them to do it now rather than allowing the team more chances to bat. I don't think the BDs consider that. At least it doesn't look that way when you watch the games and don't see any hit and runs or bunts.
You know the other great thing about those plays? The havoc they create for the fielders. I mean, with the trend toward hitting first and defense second, there are some pretty god-awful fielders out there. It's another weakness that can be exploited.
As an aside, I should tell you that the situational hitting thing is where most of my frustration with Torii Hunter and Jacque Jones comes from. They seem to swing from their <buttocks> every time they go up there, without ever considering that advancing runners might make more sense in a given situation. That makes me tired.
At any rate, it seems like maybe that's what you were hitting on—that situational hitting is important, and that maybe it's something that isn't easily quantified. The best thing is that it's not any sort of indictment of the use of statistics as a tool for player evaluation or as a way to examine the game to see if there are ways to exploit the talent you have to get more wins.
Maybe that's what I don't like about SABR guys sometimes. They seem to preach about how 'traditionalists' need to open their eyes to the world of statistics and have open minds about their use, but many of them seem rather closed-minded about the intangibles of the game.
Doesn't it seem like that's where the manager comes in? To keep the organizational philosophy of getting on base and mashing to bring home as many runs as possible in the early innings, and then kicking in the strategy late in the game to score the one or two runs that will make the difference in a close game. I don't know.
One last thought I guess. I realize more and more every day how little I know about the subtleties of the game of baseball. There's so much depth and breadth to what's happening out on the field, that it's nearly impossible to have all of that information in your head. That alone tells me that using the principles of SABRmetrics to distill the game down to a pile of numbers doesn't tell you enough about the game. If that's all you're paying attention to, you're missing so much that the game has to offer.
OK, I actually just said that because I don't know everything about baseball, that means that SABRmetrics can never encompass the whole thing.
Again, I just need to reiterate that I don’t have a problem with a walk. My point was that I love quality at bats, and that doesn’t necessarily mean a walk, or even at times a hit. I think that on-base percentage is important, but I also think that batting average is important too, as is slugging percentage.
I think situational hitting is the key to baseball. Every actual Run is important, far more important than “projected” runs. Actual Wins are more important that “Win Shares” or “Projected Wins.”
I think On-Base Percentage is important for the #1 and #2 hitters in a lineup. I think the #3 hitter should be the best overall hitter. I would like to see the #4 and #5 hitters to have high slugging percentage.
To summarize, yes, stats are important in evaluation, but in game-time situations, situational hitting is far more important than anything. Even if that means dropping down a bunt, or grounding out to 2B to move a runner to 3B so that the next hitter only needs a sacrifice fly to win a game.
Thanks again to all of those who participated in this discussion! It was fun! If you have any further thoughts on this topic, or if you have any ideas for another Discussion Question, please feel free to e-mail me and let me know! Thanks!
Yesterday, Twins pitchers and catchers reported to Ft. Myers. Today, they will be participating in their first official workout. There have been a lot of great articles written the last couple of days on the Twins (and some not so good ones!). It is fun to have these baseball stories popping up daily now! It just means the season is getting closer!
For the best source of Twins discussion, be sure to head over to the Dickie Thon Twins Fan Forum. There you can converse with other Twins fans. Also, “Jan” continues to keep us updated on Twins articles from around the country, as well as articles on the rest of the Twins AL Central Competition! It is well worth stopping by their site and bookmarking it. Then check back frequently throughout the day!
Here are just a couple of articles that stood out to me. Throughout this offseason, we have talked about how Victory Sports would be showcasing Twins games this summer. However, at this point, just 22 cable providers have Victory Sports. In a Star-Tribune article today, Fox Sports Net is in the process of making proposals to Carl Pohlad. A 10 year proposal is being mentioned. So far, those at Victory Sports are saying that the Pohlad family is set on making the TV station work and won’t sign with Fox Sports Net. Honestly, at this point, as a Twins fan in an area that currently does not have Victory Sports, I am more than happy that Fox Sports Net is getting involved. I love the concept of Victory Sports, but I want to watch the Twins play, whatever station that might be on!
Lavelle E. Neal wrote a great article today about all of the new pitchers on the Twins roster this spring. It’s very interesting. However, read the following exchange:
Torii Hunter was talking to an unfamiliar person when Anderson stopped to say, "What's up, Torii?" then proceeded to head elsewhere.
"Hey, Andy," Hunter called to him as he walked away. "This is Pete Munro."
Now, I hope this is just hyperbole and good writing by Mr. Neal. I mean, if in fact, Rick Anderson does not even know what Pete Munro looks like, that is pathetic!
I’m not even involved directly with the Twins, and there isn’t a guy on the roster, from the guys acquired from other organizations to the minor leaguers, that I would not recognize. Also, you would like to think that Anderson and Gardenhire would have watched some film on them, maybe even met them in person or talked to them since their acquisitions. As always, Mr. Neal writes a great article.
Jim Souhan wrote a great article on Sunday about Doug Mientkiewicz and Shannon Stewart, and their fathers. Both are from Miami. They played either with or against each other from Little League through high school, went to camps together and developed a very good relationship. Shannon Stewart almost ended up at the same high school as Mientkiewicz, Alex Rodriguez and one-time Twins pitcher Dan Perkins. It’s just a good human-interest story, the kind I really enjoy reading.
That is about a 180 degree difference from the Patrick Reusse article from yesterday. Nothing but negative about the Twins 2004 season. Real Twins fans have to know that the team will not run away with the AL Central, but despite their losses, they will be very competitive. I really get annoyed by people who choose to be so negative this early. The season hasn’t even started. And I know many are sick of hearing it, but the Twins competition is with the other teams in the AL Central. Fortunately they’re not in the AL East! Spring Training is a time for optimism, at least for teams with post season aspirations, and there is no reason to believe that the Twins will not be able to at least compete for a division title!
At least in Jim Souhan’s article today, he acknowledges the question marks, but gives the fans reason to believe that they can overcome those things.
Over at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Gordon Wittenmeyer asks the question “Ready of Not” in discussing Twins catching phenom Joe Mauer. Anyone who expects Mauer to duplicate the numbers that AJ Pierzynski put up the last couple of seasons is fooling themselves. However, I would be willing to say that he will be better than AJ defensively by Opening Day and the pitching staff and his teammates will like him far better. Also, within a year, he could be a Top 5 catcher in all of baseball.
Tom Powers wrote a great article on LaTroy Hawkins still being “Half Twin”.
"I miss the fellas," Hawkins said after his first workout as a Cub. "I miss Torii and Jacque and those guys. Dougie and Stew. They're my buddies."
The “personal” side of a team and chemistry and things like that are important in baseball, even if it can not be measured statistically. I think that it is greatly overrated, but at the same time it is important. Don’t forget that these people work with each other for eight or (hopefully) nine months out of the year. They develop relationships. So when they sign elsewhere or are traded, they are affected, no matter what they tell you.
"It was an easy call," he said. "They didn't offer me a dime. They called a couple of times, but that was it. They never offered me a dime."
That, to me, is what is most disappointing about this. The Twins never even made Hawk a contract offer. He never had a chance to turn one down. And, for what he signed for with the Cubs, it would have been reasonable, even for the Twins to sign him! I like Hawkins. I don’t think he was a good closer three seasons ago. I won’t argue with anyone about that. However, I think that he became a great and dominant pitcher the last two years. He goes to Chicago with the same role for the Cubs. This time, he will be setting up for Joe Borowski. I certainly wish him nothing but the best!
Today’s Tom Power’s article is called “Guardado, Twins Missing Each Other.” It seems pretty genuine. Just another great story.
"Corey Koskie called me yesterday," Guardado said. "He said he peeks over at my locker every day. I told him, 'Stop it, man, you're getting me all teared up.' "
What was the take on the Twins off-season decision-making, in summary:
"They weren't really trying," he said.
What pushed him over the edge into signing with Seattle, he said, was this: Right at the deadline, and after what Guardado considered lackluster negotiations, the Twins publicly announced they decided to offer him arbitration and that they had just signed Shannon Stewart to a three-year, $18 million contract.
"Then I knew they wanted Shannon Stewart more than me," Guardado said. "It really hurt me inside. Hey, Shannon is a nice guy. I like Shannon. But they decided to sign Shannon instead of me, in my opinion. That's when I knew we weren't going to get it done."
The next day, Guardado was on a plane to Seattle.
"That plane ride up there, my stomach was turning," he said. "I hadn't felt anything like that in a long time."
AJ Pierzynski is actually all saying the right things about the Twins organization, now that he is in San Francisco. However, his former Twins and current Giants teammate, Dustan Mohr, is not leaving so quietly! From a Tom Power’s article:
Like Pierzynski, Mohr was squeezed out by a No. 1 draft choice. In his case, it was Mike Cuddyer. But Cuddyer has yet to prove he can hit major-league pitching, despite repeated chances. And now he is being looked upon as a utility man.
"How many chances do you give a guy?" Mohr wondered.
It's obvious he believes he didn't get a fair chance to win an outfield job. He recalled that when the right field job was declared open during 2002 spring training, and he put up the best numbers, he still didn't get it.
"Respect is something you earn," he said. "Some of the guys weren't respected as much as they should have been for political reasons, to be honest.
"I understand you have to get something out of your investment, a high draft pick that you gave a lot of money to. I understand that it's politics. But I think I speak for Bobby (Kielty) in that we both were kind of devastated sitting on the bench in the playoffs after playing all year. At that point, we both knew our time was coming to an end."
Mohr was referring to the 2002 playoffs. After platooning successfully with Kielty in right field all season, the Twins benched both and went with Cuddyer, just recalled from the minors.
"You earn things," Mohr said. "When you don't get what you deserve, it's tough."
Part of me says he is right. Cuddyer has had a couple of very short chances. But every time, Gardy would start playing Dustan Mohr instead. Mohr would hit well for 3 or 4 weeks, then strike out the rest of the season, while making himself look good in the outfield with unnecessary diving.
Said Mohr: "They wanted me here. It's nice to be wanted by the team you're playing for. And if you earn something, you earn something. It wasn't like that there."
Um, Dustan, I hate to break it to you, but Barry Bonds will be in left field. Marquis Grissom will be the primary centerfielder. The Giants gave Michael Tucker a 2-year deal to play right field, and they still have Jeffrey Hammonds on their roster too. So, get used to still being a 5th outfielder!!! You can spell Bonds on his weekly day off, and play the occasional center field.
On that note, I am going to call it a day. It is so much fun to talk about the Twins. If you have any questions or comments, please be sure to e-mail me.
Have a great week!
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