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Sunday, July 02, 2006

SABR36: Day 4

Well, as I wing my way back to the Front Range I'll recap my final day of SABR36, one that was loaded with research presentations.

  • I sat in on Norman Macht's discussion titled " Baseball: Why this Passion?" in which the author of more than 30 books and an upcoming biography of Connie Mack outlined the reasons he believes baseball resonates so forcefully with the American public. These reasons range from the simple fact that people enjoy good stories which baseball provides in the short story of the individual game to the novel of a season, to the sense of community and belonging that satisfies the sublimation of our tribal instinct. But most of all I enjoyed his illustration of the latter point through the retelling of a humorous story about a Brooklyn man and his son who watched Ted Kluszewski beat the Dodgers on a 9th inning homerun and how the next few hours transpired as the father interacted with his wife, brother-in-law, and neighbors regarding the game.


  • The was a panel of former Pacific Coast League (PCL) players who reminisced about the teams and players from the 1940s through the 60s. All were entertaining of course and provided a sense of how the PCL was viewed on an almost level playing field with the majors in those days.


  • A presentation by Baseball Reference's Sean Foreman titled "Better Defense Through Bruising" looking at passed balls and wild pitches was very well done and later in the day won the award for best presentation. Sean's study can be found here and I'll have more to say about it next week in my column for BP.


  • From there I took in Dave Smith's (of Retrosheet) talk on the "Effect of Batting Order (not Lineup) on Scoring". In short Smith looked at run scoring patterns across innings based on which lineup slot led off the inning using data from 1957-2005 comprising over 95,000 games. He concluded that lineup slot of the first batter in an inning matters a great deal in a team's average scoring and that lineups appear to be well designed in that the best scoring results are seen when the man in the leadoff slot bats first in any inning. In his comments, however, he appeared to contradict the conventional sabermetric wisdom that lineup construction (in other words the order in which players appear in the order) matters little over the course of a season, however I don't believe his data really spoke to the issue. What caught the attention of most listeners, however, was a side note comment he made that he found that walk-off wins occur on average just over once in every ten games. Given the current full slate of 15 games in a day, that means that on average a walk-off occurs every day. I'll have to admit that seems counterintuitive and caught me by surprise.


  • In what was perhaps my favorite talk (and longest title) of the convention Jeff Angus, author of Management By Baseball, presented on "Punctuated Equilibrium in the Bullpen: The 2005 World Champion White Sox Blend Sabermetrics & Sociology to Deliver Successful Innovation". Angus talked about what he called the "origin myth" of Herman Franks and Bruce Sutter inventing the role of the modern closer as well the myth that Tony LaRussa and Dennis Eckersley did so. Instead he favors Jeff Torborg and Jim Fregosi for reasons I'll discuss in my column and then goes on to discuss the strategy employed by the 2005 White Sox and how that differs from what has become the traditional model.


  • Clem Comly of Retrosheet then discussed the issues that Retrosheet volunteers face when inputing and cleaning up data in a talk titled "Hindsight is not always 20/20 Or, How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Heisenberg". Comly outline the various types of discrepancies they face and showed examples of each. He also noted that these discrepancies exist in the published data on retrosheet but mostly effect years prior to the 1980s. For example, 3% of the batting records have discrepancies in 1957, and 9% of pitching records do versus effectively 0% by 1984. For that reason analysis done by researchers will need to take these discrepancies into account and Retrosheet is striving to make public which records are at issue on the site itself.


  • What was perhaps the highlight of the day for many was the CBA panel moderator by Rob Neyer which included Dick Moss (former lead counsel or as he said, "only lawyer" for the player's union), author Andrew Zimbalist, and Mike Marshall who served as a player representative. After a brief history of labor negotiations in which Moss and Marshall retold a few war stories the discussion turned to the existing and future agreements. When asked by Neyer why we haven't heard anything about any discussions, Moss pointedly remarked that it's because "the parties don't want you to know anything". He then added that talks were ongoing and that the parties feel they can make better progress out of the public eye. Zimbalist appeared to have the best grasp on the current situation but all agreed that this time around there probably would not be a work stoppage since there is too much money at stake and the rising tide of revenue and salaries coupled with the fact that basic rights issues have been resolved make the players less militant.


  • After the CBA panel there was a slight delay as the room was cleared but then former BP'er Jonah Keri took the podium and presented the chapter "Is A-Rod Overpaid?" from Baseball Between the Numbers. I had never met Jonah and we was an engaging speaker and presented the material originally developed by Nate Silver in a very easy to understand and persuasive way. For the details you'll need to buy the book but in short, yes, A-Rod by several different measures, is overpaid.


  • To round out the day of presentations Mark Pankin presented a talk on the relative value of on base percentage vs. slugging percentage called "Can On Base Percentage be Worth Three Times More than Slugging Average?" which was created in response to the passage in Moneyball where Paul DePodesta (now of the Padres by the way) notes that they value an additional point of OBP at three times the value of an additional point of SLUG. Pankin uses a Markov Model in his analysis and concludes that in 2005 OBP was worth 1.88 times SLUG while historically the value has gone from around 1.4 to about 1.95.


  • After the presentation were over I hung around to watch the trivia contest. First there were the finals of the team competition and then the individuals which last until around 9:30pm. THT's Steve Treder came in second place and all the competitors wowed the crowd with their knowledge of the truly trivial (one category was second place finishes and asked the constestants questions like, "who finished second in hit batsmen in 1956?").

    Up early this morning and now back in Colorado Springs after a long but very interesting and entertaining four days in the Emerald City.

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