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Friday, December 30, 2005

Love to Bunt

As a followup to my latest article on bunting on THT and as a preview of the next article here's a few numbers on sacrifices that were attempted and successful over the past three seasons (2003-2005). You'll have to read the article to ascertain how sacrifice attempts are counting and the success criteria.

Att Succ Pct
7252 5550 0.765306

And by position...a subject I discuss more in the next article...

Position Att Succ Pct
7 356 304 0.854
9 267 223 0.835
4 861 719 0.835
3 137 114 0.832
6 1006 836 0.831
8 693 571 0.824
2 549 451 0.821
10 84 69 0.821
5 378 292 0.772
11 217 161 0.742
1 2704 1810 0.669

And by inning...

Inning Att Succ Pct
1 512 448 0.875
2 783 562 0.718
3 998 714 0.715
4 704 527 0.749
5 961 705 0.734
6 683 551 0.807
7 822 647 0.787
8 819 638 0.779
9 588 450 0.765
10 159 138 0.868
11 105 73 0.695
12 57 46 0.807
13 25 21 0.840
14 15 13 0.867
15 15 12 0.800
16 3 2 0.667
17 2 2 1.000
19 1 1 1.000

I also took a look at those who had 20 or more sacrifice attempts in the period. Here they are ranked by percentage...

>=20 Attempts
Att Succ Pct
Luis Castillo 47 47 1.000
Timo Perez 22 22 1.000
Jerry Hairston 24 23 0.958
Julio Lugo 22 21 0.955
Nook Logan 21 20 0.952
Derek Jeter 41 39 0.951
Deivi Cruz 20 19 0.950
Ryan Freel 19 18 0.947
Alex Cora 30 28 0.933
Miguel Cairo 30 28 0.933
Paul Lo Duca 27 25 0.926
Juan Uribe 34 31 0.912
Omar Vizquel 55 50 0.909
Edgar Renteria 22 20 0.909
Matt Morris 32 29 0.906
Brandon Inge 21 19 0.905
Javier Vazquez 21 19 0.905
Kenny Lofton 21 19 0.905
David Eckstein 40 36 0.900
Luis Gonzalez 20 18 0.900
Michael Tucker 20 18 0.900
Endy Chavez 38 34 0.895
Adam Everett 51 45 0.882
Livan Hernandez 41 36 0.878
Coco Crisp 41 36 0.878
Juan Pierre 57 50 0.877
Tony Womack 32 28 0.875
Jack Wilson 39 34 0.872
Randy Winn 31 27 0.871
Craig Biggio 23 20 0.870
Luis Matos 23 20 0.870
Ramon Santiago 30 26 0.867
Aaron Miles 22 19 0.864
Chone Figgins 35 30 0.857
Russ Ortiz 28 24 0.857
Henry Blanco 21 18 0.857
Andy Pettitte 21 18 0.857
Ramon Martinez 20 17 0.850
Melvin Mora 33 28 0.848
Royce Clayton 50 42 0.840
Angel Berroa 37 31 0.838
Omar Infante 24 20 0.833
Joe McEwing 24 20 0.833
Scott Podsednik 35 29 0.829
Neifi Perez 40 33 0.825
Dave Roberts 28 23 0.821
Tom Glavine 28 23 0.821
Kris Benson 33 27 0.818
Nick Green 22 18 0.818
Claudio Vargas 22 18 0.818
Brian Roberts 32 26 0.813
Marcus Giles 25 20 0.800
Kirk Rueter 20 16 0.800
Roy Oswalt 34 27 0.794
Jason Schmidt 43 34 0.791
Alex Sanchez 52 41 0.788
Brad Ausmus 23 18 0.783
Placido Polanco 23 18 0.783
Ronnie Belliard 23 18 0.783
Brett Tomko 45 35 0.778
Alex Cintron 27 21 0.778
Jeff Suppan 31 24 0.774
Willie Harris 22 17 0.773
Steve Trachsel 30 23 0.767
Woody Williams 30 23 0.767
Jamey Carroll 32 24 0.750
Mike Hampton 24 18 0.750
Jerome Williams 24 18 0.750
Jose Valentin 24 18 0.750
Corey Patterson 24 18 0.750
Kerry Wood 20 15 0.750
Miguel Olivo 20 15 0.750
Jeff Weaver 20 15 0.750
Brad Penny 20 15 0.750
Aaron Cook 20 15 0.750
Randy Wolf 20 15 0.750
Juan Castro 26 19 0.731
Josh Fogg 33 24 0.727
Carlos Zambrano 22 16 0.727
Cristian Guzman 53 38 0.717
Quinton McCracken 21 15 0.714
Cory Lidle 24 17 0.708
Brett Myers 34 24 0.706
Odalis Perez 34 24 0.706
John Thomson 27 19 0.704
Mark Prior 27 19 0.704
Greg Maddux 36 25 0.694
Rafael Furcal 26 18 0.692
Aaron Rowand 26 18 0.692
Oliver Perez 29 20 0.690
Shawn Estes 28 19 0.679
Cesar Izturis 39 26 0.667
Brandon Webb 36 24 0.667
Adam Eaton 24 16 0.667
Kazuhisa Ishii 29 19 0.655
Jake Peavy 29 19 0.655
Ben Sheets 33 21 0.636
John Patterson 22 14 0.636
AJ Burnett 27 17 0.630
Matt Clement 21 13 0.619
Josh Beckett 31 19 0.613
Brian Lawrence 31 19 0.613
Carl Pavano 23 14 0.609
Dontrelle Willis 22 13 0.591
Jason Jennings 26 15 0.577
Chris Carpenter 27 15 0.556
Vicente Padilla 20 11 0.550
Paul Wilson 26 13 0.500
Al Leiter 22 11 0.500
Kevin Millwood 23 11 0.478
Horacio Ramirez 21 10 0.476
Kip Wells 24 11 0.458
Eric Milton 22 10 0.455
Aaron Harang 20 8 0.400
Ramon Ortiz 19 7 0.368
Mark Redman 23 8 0.348
Doug Davis 29 9 0.310

Note that Matt Morris tops the list of pitchers. Interesting that Luis Castillo has been perfect. Stay tuned.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Jacque in Wrigley

David Appleman of FanGraphs has a nice article on THT on the new Cubs Jacque Jones. He shows that Jones decrease in batting average since 2003 has likely been because he's hitting fewer line drives. Interestingly, when he hits fly balls they leave the yard with alarming regularity. The problem is that he's an extreme ground ball hitter. That's not good news for him or the Cubs as he shifts to Wrigley where the grass is high and the alleys short.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Could Be Worse: Cubs 2006

Well, I've held my tongue long enough and so I just have to share my thoughts on the Cubs 2005-2006 offseason thus far.

  • Signed Glendon Rusch for 2 years at $6M. Not a bad move to sign him as an insurnace policy since he can both start and relieve. Good move.

  • Picked up options on Todd Walker and Scott Williamson. Both good moves since Walker is probably as good at secondbase as they would have been able to get and Williamson is worth the risk.

  • Declined option on Jeremy Burnitz and bought him out for $500K. Not a bad move if, and I say again if, you actually have a plan for filling the right field slot. Burnitz had the kind of year you expect from him but he contributes both defensively and on the bases.

  • Signed Ryan Dempster for 3 years at $15.5M. Probably overpaid for a guy who, to me anyway, just isn't cut out to be a closer. Yes, he had a great run in 2005 but I'll be surprised if we see that out of him again.

  • Signed Neifi Perez for years and too much money. Why two years? I don't mind having him back as a backup but we all know that Dusty will rely on him in all kinds of situations and he'll bat leadoff or second and do alot of drag bunting...yada yada yada. A bad move based on the two year contract and the fact that he'll take at bats from Ronnie Cedeno who looked good last year and is having a good winter.

  • Traded John Leceister to the Ranger for a PTBNL. 27 year old that didn't really figure in the Cubs plans. Remains to be seen whether this one is good or bad.

  • Signed LHP Scott Eyre to two years plus an option for 2008. Now 34 years old and coming off the best season of his career. Look for him to regress. Will Ohman wasn't quite as good last year but probably good enough to eat those innings as the LOOGY.

  • Signed RHP Bobby Howry to a three year deal. Back to back good seasons in Cleveland and at 32 years old should be good for one or two more. Not a bad deal and makes me wonder why they spent $15.5M on Dempster.

  • Traded Jermain Van Buren to the Red Sox for a PTBNL. Hard thrower whose strikeout rates increased the last two seasons in AA and AAA. Hope they get somebody decent or this might be a big bust.

  • Acquired Juan Pierre for Sergio Mitre, Ricky Nolasco, and Renyel Pinto. Nolasco at 22 years old went 14-3 at AA with 173/46 K/BB ratio in 161.7 innings. Pinto has always had more control issues but did fairly well at AA last year (101 hits in 129.7 IP). And of course we all know Mitre has a great arm and could be the Marlins number two starter. This was alot to give up for an outfielder with a .350 SLUG. Major injuries to Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, and/or Carlos Zambrano could have the Cubs wishing they still had these three arms. Too early to tell.

  • Signed John Mabry to a one-year deal and designated Jose Macias for assignment. Half of this I like. Mabry, on the other hand, struggled last year and probably won't be getting any better at age 35. I've often called for the Cubs to strengthen their bench by acquiring some hitters but this aint it.

  • Picked up LHP Carlos Jan, RHP Geivy Garcia, and INF Aaron Rifkin in the Rule 5 draft. Then sent Rifkin to the Rockies for a PTBNL. Jan hasn't played above A ball and is a hard thrower with control issues. Garcia has struggled in A ball the last two seasons and isn't going anywhere. We'll see what they get for Rifkin but there are no contributors here. They also lost Juan Mateo who struck out 123 in 109.7 innings and walked only 27 in A-ball last year so it appears the Rule 5 was a net negative this year.

  • Signed Jacque Jones for three years and $16M. Ouch. I said earlier that it was OK to let Burnitz walk if you had a plan. Obviously they didn't and had to grab what they could. On the wrong side of 30 Jones hasn't played well since 2003 and so I wouldn't expect him to even replace Burnitz's declining Win Shares. Bad idea for one year let alone three.

  • I also see that they've offered a contract to Corey Patterson since they now need him to compete for the left field job with Matt Murton with Pierre in center and Jones in right. Those four together combine for a pretty weak offensive outfield.

    Thus far I'd give Jim Hendry and the gang a C-. Could be worse. And it probably is as Kerry Wood will not be ready by the start of the season. Just waiting for the other shoe (or achilles tendon) to drop regarding the health of Mark Prior.

    Projected Opening day lineup
    CF Pierre
    2B Walker
    1B Lee
    3B Ramirez
    RF Jones
    C Barrett
    LF Patterson/Murton
    SS Cedeno
    P Prior

    Bunting Redux

    Back in May I posted some thoughts about the probability of a successful sacrifice. I've now extended that a little bit in an article posted this morning on THT. Turns out my previous estimate was a little low and sacrifices are probably successful around 76% of the time. Enjoy.

    Saturday, December 17, 2005

    The Crash of 2006?

    Last week T.J. Quinn of the New York Daily News wrote an article entitled "Post-steroid era is eye-opener" that discussed the drug issue in baseball in the context of the winter meetings in Dallas.

    Interestingly Quinn makes the argument that baseball's new and tougher drug policies are making it more difficult for statistically-minded front offices since it is harder to evaluate players based on statistics.

    "With baseball ushering in a new policy for next season - the Players Association approved it unanimously this past week - scouts and executives agree that they are still sorting out the end of baseball's steroid era. Statistics compiled in the years before baseball started incrementally toughening its policy in 2003 are considered suspect, making it tough to plug numbers into a computer to determine a player's value. "

    That makes sense since some player's career trajectories have been altered by the use of steroids. With baseball cleaning up its act, it stands to reason that those players who were using performance enhancers and have quit will suffer more precipitous declines in performance than they would have otherwise. This makes a GM's job harder if he's thinking about signing a veteran with an established level of performance.

    Quinn then discusses the situation from the perspective of the Mets GM Omar Minaya.

    "As for the more immediate problem of evaluating players who might have been doping for years, Minaya, a classic lifelong baseball man with a scouting background, says the tougher anti-doping rules have eliminated some of the guesswork from his job. 'The past couple of years we've been conscious of a potential problem and it seems to be getting rectified,' he said. 'Before, you wondered if a performance was enhanced or not. I trust the numbers the last two years.'"

    What's missing here, and what Quinn acknowledges, is that it is still easy to beat baseball's drug policy. Human growth hormone, for example, still cannot be tested for.

    However, Quinn believes that the amphetamine policy will have the larger effect.

    "The biggest question, some executives said, is how the banishment of amphetamines, announced only last month, will change the game. Players have relied on 'greenies' for decades for an extra boost of energy and intensity. Some players have said they simply cannot get through a six-month, 162-game season without mother's little helper. "

    Aside from greenies incorrectly being labeled "mother's little helper", which I think has traditionally been associated with Valium, I think he makes a pretty good point. Greenies have been used by far more players than steroids and so removing them will likely have a greater effect on the player population as a whole.

    However, since their effects are generally subtler and since there are negative side effects like decreased appetite and disrupted sleep patterns, players will probably adapt by taking legal stimulants or simply taking better care of themselves. And so statistically speaking I doubt we'll see numbers come crashing down.

    One of the hallmarks of humanity is its' ability to adapt and survive. In 1998 some psychologists published a meta-study on childhood sexual abuse. What they found when looking at the subsequent mental health of those who had been abused and comparing it to those who hadn't, was that the difference between the two groups was just two-tenths of a standard deviation. In other words, those had been abused had more problems later in life, but not to the degree that we've been conditioned to expect based on pop-psychology and modern media portrayals of abuse.

    This result triggered a firestorm of controversy which even included the United States Congress passing resolutions which condemned the analysis. Why? Because rather than be comforted by the fact that human beings are a resilient species, they saw it as providing ammunition for those who support pedophilia and other morally reprehensible acts. But we can have both. We can be glad that early traumas don't necessarily mean a wrecked psychological life and at the same time condemn acts that are immoral.

    Thursday, December 15, 2005

    The Sixth Tool

    Here's an interesting blog that purports to be written by an actual scout using a pseudonym. I have my doubts since the setup is too perfect and the writing too good, but it is well-written and interesting. It highlights the differences between traditional scouting where looking for the "Sixth Tool" is paramount and so-called "performance scouting" which, as the scout "Cutter" Jones says, is mostly hogwash

    An analysis of some of the posts was done here.

    Absentee Blogger

    I haven't been writing as much on this blog in the last week because at Compassion we were in the midst of rolling out some software, which I can happily say, was put into production this morning. For those in IT you might find our little project interesting...

    Monday, December 12, 2005

    Schwarz on THT

    Alan Schwarz wrote a nice piece in The New York Times that gave prominent mention to The Hardball Times and one of our fearless leaders Dave Studeman. What I love about the article is that it illustrates how much disparity there still exists between many baseball insiders subjective valuations of players and what performance analysis would indicate.

    "When taken seriously, and asked to assess the victory value of the players they acquired during the industry's annual swap meet, the answers usually sounded like the one Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire gave when he spoke about his new speedy second baseman, Luis Castillo.

    'He's worth 15 wins, potentially,' Gardenhire said of Castillo, a .293 lifetime hitter acquired from the Florida Marlins. 'We lost 30 one-run games last year. With Luis' ability to get on base, steal bases, score runs and play defense, a guy like that can make a difference in at least half those one-run games going the other way.'"

    Of course those who are familiar with Win Shares know that 15 wins would be the equivalent to 45 Win Shares, a total that Luis Castillo has never and will never approach. Albert Pujols led the majors in WS with 38 last season with Derrek Lee and Alex Rodriguez tied for second at 37. Last season Castillo totalled 17 WS and as Schwarz points out, that doesn't take into account the Win Shares that any replacement level second baseman would contribute.

    It's interesting that the White Sox, a team that you wouldn't think would use performance analysis, use a more analytical approach and estimate that the Jim Thome for Aaron Rowand trade will net them 15 runs (+20 for Thome and -5 for Rowand) or 1.5 wins using the standard 10 runs per win estimate.

    Saturday, December 10, 2005

    Sinister Motives?

    I'd like to thank everyone for their feedback regarding my article on Caribbean players over at THT. I was especially interested in a note from Mike Cook who speculated that perhaps lower plate discipline is a product of coaching philosophy towards Caribbean players who are perhaps viewed as not as intelligent as non-Caribbeans. Another thought that was perhaps Caribbean players develop plate discipline over time since they're not exposed to advanced coaching as early in their careers.

    As to the latter hypothesis I took a look at Caribbeans and non-Caribbeans from ages 20 through 41 and produced the following graph.

    As you can see the difference between the two groups remains pretty steady as both groups age (the sample size gets pretty small for Caribbeans around age 39) and so I think we can discount the second hypothesis. If you're wondering why the walk rate climbs steadily almost to age 40 when generally performance declines as players reach their early thirties, keep in mind that this graph includes all players and so those players who are still playing in their mid to late thirties are "selected" via their better than average performance. In other words, the same set of players is not tracked at each age and so better players are represented on the right end of the graph.

    As for the former hypothesis I wouldn't argue against the notion that Caribbean and Latin players may be viewed as less intelligent, primarily because of the language barrier. Moises Alou said as much during the Krueger controversy. However, since the realization that plate discipline is a skill unto itself is relatively new in baseball, I would argue that since the production of the two groups is basically equivalent, coaches in general see no need to focus on plate discipline with Caribbean players.

    J.C. Bradbury of Sabernomics fame (who has several excellent articles in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006-buy-yours-today) also made an interesting point when he noted that Caribbean players are less likely to be left-handed and more likely to be switch hitters. I admit that I remembered reading his post but forgot completely about it when putting together the article. Indeed, just as J.C. found, in my study 13.2% of Caribbean players were switch hitters and 14.4% left-handed hitters while for non-Caribbeans it was 7.2% and 28.8% respectively.

    Caribbean Count Pct PA Pct
    B 131 0.132 232865 0.215
    R 717 0.724 705547 0.651
    L 143 0.144 146075 0.135
    991 1084487

    Non-Caribbean Count Pct PA Pct
    B 469 0.072 682139 0.116
    R 4154 0.640 3221848 0.546
    L 1868 0.288 1992907 0.338
    6491 5896894

    Overall 11% of the world population (and yours truly) is left-handed and those of Hispanic lineage (which overlaps considerably with my population of Caribbean players) are less likely (9.1%) to be sinister (the Latin word for "left" is sinstre) than dextral ("just" or "right" in Latin). Of course that small difference doesn't explain the much larger difference you see in players from the Caribbean. Many people have pondered this question and it would seem that the cultural bias against lefties in the Caribbean is likely the largest contributing factor. Players forced to write right-handed are therefore more likely to become switch hitters when they start playing baseball. A lesser factor might be related to position bias where more Caribbeans gravitate to middle-infield positions which are traditionally manned by righties.

    Following this line of reasoning J.C. offered that since Caribbean hitters more often hit with the platoon advantage they might walk less and hit with a higher average as a result.

    In a different study I'm doing of platoon advantage I found that hitters with the platoon advantage do indeed walk less frequently (actually .0013 walks per plate appearance less) than do hitters when they don't have the platoon advantage. They also hit for a higher average (+.024) when they have the advantage. In that study, however, I didn't include switch hitters which is very relevant here.

    Using the table above and estimating that 30% of the plate appearances in the majors are against left-handed pitching Caribbean hitters actually hit with the platoon advantage 50.4% of the time while non-Caribbean do so 51.6% of the time. The reason for this is that Caribbeans include 8.4% more "pure" right-handed hitters (with pure in quotes since doubtless many of those are lefties like my Dad who were forced to be right-handed and then never returned from the Dark Side). So it would appear that platoon advantage doesn't really explain the difference.

    Friday, December 09, 2005

    Take a Walk...

    My article on the Krueger/Alou controversy has been posted on THT. It takes a look at the group differences in offensive performance between Caribbean and non-Caribbean players.

    Also had a nice surprise when I found that Rob Neyer mentioned one of my articles in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006 where he says:

    "In 'The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006', contributor Dan Fox does something that I've never seen anybody do before: He puts together the wins and losses that we would expect from the run differentials and the underlying events that generally lead to runs scored and allowed.

    I won't present the method in any great detail -- Fox's article runs for several pages, and anyway, you should buy the book (which also contains, among other things, a couple of articles by Bill James and a modest essay by your humble columnist) -- but the results are worth mentioning."

    As I mentioned in the article I can't take credit for the idea since I lifted it from Phil Birnbaum's presentation at this year's SABR conference in Toronto. Phil looked at the role of luck retrospectively and also included pitchers and hitters having outlier or "career years".

    Thursday, December 08, 2005


    I just saw that Tracy Ringsolsby has been honored by the Baseball Writers Association of America with the Spink Award. I met Tracy for the first time last season while scoring for since he and his cowbody hat often occupied the seat next to mine on the front row of the press box. He's always very pleasant and you can tell the other writers and club personel greatly respect him. This honor is well-deserved, heck, helping found Baseball America in and of itself is enough.

    I don't always agree with his takes, especially when it comes to the role and value of performance analysis, but I always appreciate his great writing.

    Here is the AP story.

    DALLAS (AP) - Tracy Ringolsby of the Rocky Mountain News, a pioneer in baseball labor coverage and also among the first writers to concentrate on scouting, won the J.G. Taylor Spink Award on Wednesday from the Baseball Writers'
    Association of America.

    Ringolsby will be honored for meritorious contributions to baseball writing during the induction ceremonies in July at the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. He received 225 votes from BBWAA members to 128 for Joe Goddard of the Chicago Sun-Times and 76 for the late Vern Plagenhoef of Michigan's Booth Newspaper Group.

    Ringolsby has covered baseball for 30 years, 28 as a beat reporter and two as a national writer. He has worked for the Denver paper since 1992, covering the inaugural season of the Colorado Rockies, and previously worked for United Press International, the Press-Telegram in Long Beach, Calif., the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Kansas City Star and The Dallas Morning News.
    Ringolsby has worked to have scouts recognized by the Hall of Fame and was also one of the founders of Baseball America, a publication focused on player development and scouting. He covered the grievance hearing of Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, which led to free agency in baseball.

    Wednesday, December 07, 2005

    Playing the Infield In

    I'm sure if you've watched much baseball you've heard it said that with the infield in a hitter's average goes up 100 points...or 75 points...or something like that. In any case the conventional wisdom is that batting average goes up significantly when the defense is attempting to prevent a critical run from scoring by positioning their infielders close.

    John Walsh's excellent articles on THT prompted me to take a quick look at just how true the conventional wisdom is using play by play data for 2003-2005. The problem is that PBP data does not contain indicators that say "infield was in" on this or that particular play. So we'll have to make some guesses as to when the infield is likely to be in. This too is fraught with difficulty since when you think about it, teams play their defenses in a variety of configurations from double play depth, to in at the corners and DP depth up the middle, in at the corners and half-way up the middle, to all the way in. In fact, in thinking about it I don't have a good feel for how often managers actually bring their infields in - a case of not actually observing what it is you're seeing I suppose.

    In any case I took at stab at identifying those situations where the infield was likely to be in. They were:

  • Runners on third, or second and third, less than 2 outs, with a -3 to 0 run differential in the fifth inning or later

  • Runners on at least first and third, less than 2 outs, with a -2 to 0 run differential in the 8th inning or later

  • In other words I'm assuming that teams don't play the infield in when they have a lead, when they're down by a number of runs, or before the fifth inning, and that they would go for the double play before the 6th inning. In both cases I'm looking at all balls that were put in play excluding bunts.

    So to make the comparison I looked at batted ball outcomes by trajectory in these situations and when these situations didn't apply. First, let's take a look at the non infield-in situations.
    traj        tot     pct     out       s       d       t      hr       h      sf       e
    F 113815 28.3% 73.2% 5.6% 8.1% 1.2% 11.9% 26.8% 3.0% 0.2%
    G 179978 44.7% 76.5% 21.4% 2.0% 0.1% 0.0% 23.5% 0.0% 2.5%
    L 76351 19.0% 26.5% 51.8% 17.6% 1.5% 2.5% 73.5% 0.0% 0.1%
    P 32670 8.1% 98.1% 1.5% 0.4% 0.0% 0.0% 1.9% 0.0% 0.3%
    402814 67.9% 21.1% 6.5% 0.7% 3.8% 32.1% 1.0% 1.2%

    As you can see out of 400,000 batted balls 67.9% were turned into outs. The highest percentage turned into outs were popups and the lowest was line drives.

    Now let's take a look at the outcomes in infield-in situations.
    traj        tot     pct     out       s       d       t      hr       h      sf       e
    F 953 28.4% 76.4% 8.3% 6.4% 1.0% 7.9% 23.6% 60.1% 0.1%
    G 1555 46.4% 73.6% 24.1% 2.2% 0.1% 0.0% 26.4% 0.0% 3.2%
    L 551 16.4% 16.7% 60.4% 18.5% 1.6% 2.7% 83.3% 0.2% 0.0%
    P 295 8.8% 98.0% 2.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 2.0% 0.7% 0.0%
    3354 67.2% 23.6% 5.9% 0.6% 2.7% 32.8% 17.2% 1.5%

    What's interesting is that the percentage of balls turned into outs is essentially the same, just .7% lower at 67.2%. Interestingly, the line drive hit rate climbs from 73.5% in other situations to 83.3% in infield-in situations. This indicates that the advantage for the hitter with the infield in lies in poking line drives through the drawn in infield. You can also see that the hit rate for ground balls goes up three percent to 26.4% as more hard hit grounders scoot between infielders. This is what you would expect.

    The most surprising aspect of this analysis is that fly balls are converted into outs over 3% more often in infield-in situations than in others. That difference can be explained by the 4% drop in homeruns that accompany the infield-in situations. As Walsh pointed out in his article what is likely going on here is that hitters knowingly sacrifice power in these situations in order to put the ball in play since simply hitting a fly ball gives them over an 80% chance of scoring the runner from third. You can also see this to a lesser degree with line drives where hitters hit fewer line drives with the infield drawn in and more ground balls. Another factor to be considered is that pitchers pitch more carefully with runners on base and so are less likely to challenge hitters with pitches, that when they miss, are driven out of the yard.

    So what about our question? Well, let's take fly balls out of the picture since they are likely governed both by hitter intent and pitcher reticence. When totalling the balls in play on the ground and line drives outcomes, hitters have a .384 chance of getting a hit in other situations and a .413 chance with the infield in - a 30 point difference. That's not as much of a bump as you might suppose.

    However, that assumes that all fly balls are counted against the hitter. In infield-in situations 60% of those flyballs are counted as sacrifice flies and therefore don't count against the hitter's average. This quirk of the rule book that many would like to see eliminated means that a hitter's actual batting average goes up much more significantly. A second factor is that batters do indeed strike out less frequently with the infield-in which raises their batting average as well. Walsh ran the numbers for me and found that overall the batting average is .265 and that in the infield-in situations it's .348, an 83 point difference. When sac flies are counted as outs the average is .300. So over half the 83 point increase is due to the sac fly rule while half is due to the combination of defense alignment (more balls getting through the infield) and batters putting the ball in play more often.

    And that's about what you would expect. Teams play the infield in not because it affords a better chance of getting the batter out, but because it raises the probability that the runner on third will have to remain on third or get thrown out at the plate.

    So the conventional wisdom is superficially correct in that batting average does go up with the infield in. But when you dig a litter deeper you find that hitters don't stand a significantly better overall chance of getting a hit with the infield in.

    Executive Database

    Another little tibit. Baseball America has now published a very cool Executive Database. It contains the members of the Baseball Operations departments of teams since 1960 and general managers going back to 1950.

    Now if they would only give us an XML or csv feed so we could run some interesting GM comparisons...

    Modifying Their Approach

    John Walsh has published a couple nice articles on THT. In the first he looks at whether batters can and so change their approach with a runner on third and less than two outs in order to score the runner on a sacrifice fly. He concludes that:

    " a group batters do seem to be able to change their approach at the plate to increase the probability of getting a fly ball to score a run in a sacrifice fly situation. However, the increase in fly balls comes simply from putting more balls in play (by striking out and walking less often) and not by batters putting more of their batted balls into the air."

    So batters don't really hit more fly balls but they do put the ball in play more often. He also notes that 60% of fly balls in these situations will result in sacrifice flies while less than 1% of line drives do. The major reason for this, as Walsh notes, is that three quarters of all line drives go for hits. A second reason is that a decent percentage of line drives will be caught in the infield. But the biggest reason I think is that based on my own experience, scorers are biased towards recording balls hit to the outfield as fly balls. It's difficult when sitting in the press box to make accurrate determinations in regards to trajectory on many hard hit balls to the outfield and the default position is to record it as a line drive. Or maybe it's just me.

    In the second article Walsh looked at whether it's a good idea for hitters to change their approach in sacrifice fly situations. Although he finds that at first glance hitters are indeed more productive in SF situations using RC they are not (and this is my favorite part and a great insight) when the defensive context is taken into account. To consider the context, Walsh showed that batted balls turn into hits more frequently in SF situations, a result he credits to the "defensive alignment employed by teams with a runner on third and fewer than two outs." I assume that the vast majority of that alignment relates to playing the infield in. The difference Walsh finds is on the order of 1.5% for ground balls and .93% for line drives. Overall batted balls are turned into outs 29.9% of the time in SF situations and 28.3% in non-SF situations. This difference is not as large as I would have thought. Of course, this study doesn't attempt to look only at situations where the infield is in.

    When he then corrects for this hitters in SF situations create .3 runs less per 27 outs in SF situations than in non SF situations. His conclusion is as follows:

    "What I've tried to do here is answer the question 'Is the 'contact-oriented' approach generally more productive than the standard approach?" The answer appears to be 'no,' as can be seen after translating the aggregate performance in sac fly situations into a defense-independent context."

    Thursday, December 01, 2005

    Two Unrelated Things

    I'll be offline for much of the weekend and so wanted to leave you with these two tidbits that have no relationship to one another in any way that I can find.

    First, David Pinto reminded me that the Baseball Hall of Fame has this very cool site where you can view baseball uniforms throughout the ages. Very interesting to take a look back at the bad old days of the late 70s.

    Secondly, one of the things we have always enjoyed about Colorado Springs, and more so since we moved here, is the Flying W Wranglers, a western/gospel band that has a place out here where you can go for dinner and a concert. Well, the group is splitting up as three of the members want to pursue a more openly evangelical approach. The good news is that the Wranglers will go on and will remain a family-friendly place to go.