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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Should Randolph Have Bunted?

I had the opportunity to talk with Carl Bialik, aka "The Numbers Guy" at the Wall Street Journal regarding Run Expectancy and Win Expectancy in reference to the Willie Randolph non bunting decision with runners on first and second and nobody out in the bottom of the ninth inning down 3-1 in Game 7 of the NLCS. Of course instead of bunting pinch-hitter Cliff Floyd struck out, Jose Reyes lined out to center, Paul LoDuca walked, and Carlos Beltran struck out looking to send the Cardinals to the World Series.

Basically Carl is a Mets fan and wanted to explore how sabermetricians might evaluate the situation. The article is excellent but I just wanted to expand on my comments that he quotes.

The core question is whether the Mets would have had a better chance of winning had he sacrificed. As a first approximation at an answer based only on numbers we can review the matrix that Tango/Lichtman/Dolphin provided in The Book. There they show a mathematically derived version of a run outcome matrix (as opposed to one derived from actual outcomes, which evens out the probabilities you'd see for some of the situations since some of them have few actual occurrences).

In any case the matrix is calculated for a run environment of 5.0 runs per game, roughly equivalent to the game of 1994-2005. Using that matrix you see following:

Base Out RE 0 1 2 3 4 5+
12 0 1.585 35.3% 22.0% 16.2% 13.1% 7.0% 6.3%
23 1 1.451 30.2% 28.5% 22.4% 9.9% 5.3% 3.7%

So with runners on first and second and nobody out teams would be expected to score 2 runs exactly 16.2% of the time and 2 or more runs exactly 42.3% of the time. If they had sacrificed successfully, giving up the out for the bases, the team would (with second and third and 1 out) have a 22.4% chance of scoring 2 runs and a 41.3% chance of scoring 2 or more. In other words, given those percentages you would bunt if you were playing for the tie and swing away to play for the win. As Carl noted, the case for bunting is a little stronger than I had imagined. My assumption was that the probability of scoring 2 runs once you've bunted would be closer to that with first and second and one out indicating that the bunt would not be preferred.

I've graphed this table so you can see how the lines cross with the probability of scoring various numbers of runs.

But of course even if you were playing for a tie you'd have to execute the sacrifice first and overall that's about a 75% proposition (including those times when the defense doesn't get any outs which accounts for about 15% of the successful attempts).


In this case the Mets were down by two runs in the bottom of the ninth
and so rather than use Run Expectancy one can instead use Win Expectancy (WX) which Carl also talks about. He quotes BP's own Keith Woolner who created a mathematical model for WX. So using the same run environment of 5.0 runs per game (I'm using WX values generated by Dave Studeman using Woolner's work), the Mets would have been expected to win 21.6% of the time with runners on first and second, nobody out and 2 runs down. With a successful sacrifice their odds of winning go up to 29.4%. That makes the break-even percentage for the sacrifice at only 53.6% since if they fail their odds drop to 12.6% (assuming the failed sac leaves the runners on first and second with 1 out).

So like I said, it's a closer call than I had suspected. But had Randolph elected to bunt who would have done it? Clearly the Mets would have called on Chris Woodward or Anderson Hernandez to lay one down but I think Randolph (like most people including me) would rather put the game in the hands of a proven hitter in Floyd. Also you have to consider that Adam Wainwright throwing 95 with that big curve is difficult to bunt on as well and the fact that the Cardinals would have been all over that bunt attempt which drives down the success percentage, actually making it more attractive for the pinch hitter to then swing away - game theory in action. In all I think Randolph made the right choice and it's hard to argue against his logic.

Thing brings to mind other famous strategic decisions from post seasons past...

The most recent one that comes to mind is Dave Robert's steal of second
in game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. There the Sox were trailing 4-3 when Roberts pinch ran for Millar with nobody out. In that situation with a run environment of 3.6 runs (roughly equivalent to the deadball era thereby accounting for the fact that Mariano Rivera was in the game) the WX for the Sox stood at 31.1%. If Roberts steals successfully, then the WX goes up to 41.9% but if he fails it goes down to 9.1%

The break-even percentage (the needed success rate of the stolen base
to make it a break even play) can then be calculated as:

BE = (.311 - .091) / (.419 - .091)

Or .670, 67%

In other words, if Roberts felt that he had at least a two-thirds shot at making it, then it was a good gamble. Apparently he did (we'll pretend anyway) and the rest is history.

The other one that most folks will think of is Babe Ruth getting caught stealing to end the 1926 World Series against the Cardinals. In that situation Ruth walked with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and his team down 3-2. In that situation they had (using the Yanks 1926 run environment) a 9.5% chance of winning. Ruth of course was caught stealing but if he had been successful their odds would have gone up to 14.6%. As a result Ruth's break even percentage was 65.4%. Ruth's career stolen base percentage was around 50%. Ruth was of course thrown out easily with slugger Bob Meusel at the plate and so in that situation his odds may have been much smaller than 65% making it a poor play.

Information Revolution

My column this week on BP discusses aspects of the information revolution in the availabiltiy of data about the game. The most recent addition to that is the pitch velocities, break, and release point data used by the enhanced version of's Gameday application. Taking a cue from a friend I wrote a little .NET Framework application to do basic pitch charting showing location, release velocity, and pitch outcome, and ran the app against Kenny Roger's Game 2 performance. For those interested, this is what the basic XML data looks like and those who've read Baseball Hacks will of course find this familiar.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Gyroball on CBS

Just was forwarded this link from Will Carroll. Very interesting stuff - Al Leiter is apparently not impressed.

Lyons Speaks

BP's Maury Brown has a nice article this morning on the firing of Steve Lyons taken from a conversation that Lyons and Brown had in the last few days. For those without a subscriber account on BP you can view the transcript on Maury's The Biz of Baseball Web site and hear the interview on BP Radio from last Saturday.

I've made my position pretty clear and there's nothing in the interview or the media in the intervening days that have changed my mind. The firing was either an excuse to get rid of Lyons or a case of political correctness run amok.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Internet Baseball Awards

A little late I know but I finally got my ballet in the other day for the Internet Baseball Awards. Here's my ballot. Let the critcism begin.

1. Derek Jeter
2. Travis Hafner
3. Jermaine Dye
4. David Ortiz
5. Joe Mauer
6. Carlos Guillen
7. Johann Santana
8. Justin Morneau
9. Grady Sizemore
10. Jim Thome

AL Cy Young
1. Johann Santana
2. Roy Halladay
3. Chien-ming Wang
4. Barry Zito
5. Justin Verlander

AL Rookie of the Year
1. Francisco Liriano
2. Justin Verlander
3. Kenji Johjima
4. Jered Weaver
5. Jonathan Papelbon

AL Manager of the Year
1. Jim Leyland
2. Ron Gardenhire
3. Ken Macha

1. Ryan Howard
2. Albert Pujols
3. Miguel Cabrera
4. Lance Berkman
5. Carlos Beltran
6. Chase Utley
7. Jose Reyes
8. David Wright
9. Alfonso Soriano
10. Garrett Atkins

NL Cy Young
1. Roy Oswalt
2. Chris Carpenter
3. Trevor Hoffman
4. Brandon Webb
5. Carlos Zambrano

NL Rookie of the Year
1. Hanley Ramirez
2. Dan Uggla
3. Ryan Zimmerman
4. Josh Johnson
5. Prince Fielder

NL Manager of the Year
1. Joe Girardi
2. Tony LaRussa
3. Grady Little

Quick Takes and Clogging

A couple quick hitters on a Friday morning:

  • Found this interesting article on the Rockies Jeff Francis from earlier this season. I liked this quote from Francis when explaining the "hop" on a good fastball.

    "My second-year mechanics professor found out I was a ball player, and asked me to do a presentation with another softball player in the class," Francis recalls. "We read The Physics of Baseball, and one chapter was about the ball's flight toward the plate. The ball rising [is] an optical illusion. Normally, the ball drops a certain amount in the quarter-second or so that it's in the air on its regular flight towards home plate. If the right backspin is obtained, the air can hold it up just a bit longer on the way to home plate, dropping a certain fraction of the regular distance. Since the eye is so used to seeing it drop the regular amount, the ball gives the illusion of rising on the way towards the batter."

    This was interesting since I noticed that Tim McCarver said on the Game 1 broadcast that the four seam fastball rises. He didn't qualify the statement although I suppose its possible that he knows it doesn't actually rise but still, alot of folks don't.

  • For the next day or two is running a special where you can view the Inside Edge information. For example, here is the breakdown for Aaron Cook. It's interesting since it gives you a feel for how a pitcher works left-handed versus right-handed hitters and how the pitch selection differs. In Cook's case he uses his slider twice as much against right-handed hitters than against lefties where he instead relies on his changeup. Of course in his case he's throwing his sinker 82% of the time against both and trying to stay on the outside corner down.

  • My column on Baseball Prospectus this week used the now infamous Dusty Baker quote as as the introduction into investigating "base clogging" as discussed in a previous post. The results confirm Tom Tango's quick discussion on his blog that a good baserunner is probably only are held up by lead runners to the tune of 1 base per season.

    The following table shows some of the results that I didn't include in the column for space reasons. Essentially what it shows is how often runners advance in each of three categories of plays broken down by whether or not there was a lead runner on in front of the runner of interest. I calculated the values for each season since 2000 to see if there were any trends but as you can see overall the data are remarkably consistent.

    As you can see runners do indeed advance to third more frequently when on first when the batter singles and there is no runner on second but only by a small amount. Same goes for a runner on second when a batter singles as they score more often but again only be a few percentage points. The interesting thing is that when a runner is on first and the batter doubles, having a lead runner on seems to increase the liklihood that the runner will score. There are probably one or more other factors to consider but I don't have any real favorites at this point. I also did some checking with fast and slow runners and as expected the gaps widen but not by as much as one might think.

  • Batter Doubles with a Runner on First
    Lead? Opp To2nd To3rd Scores OA To2nd To3rd Scores OA
    2000 TRUE 934 479 424 31 51.3% 45.4% 3.3%
    2000 FALSE 1986 1079 845 62 54.3% 42.5% 3.1%
    2001 TRUE 853 421 400 32 49.4% 46.9% 3.8%
    2001 FALSE 1866 1012 805 52 54.2% 43.1% 2.8%
    2002 TRUE 827 461 341 25 55.7% 41.2% 3.0%
    2002 FALSE 1745 985 699 61 56.4% 40.1% 3.5%
    2003 TRUE 817 414 386 17 50.7% 47.2% 2.1%
    2003 FALSE 1923 1033 823 69 53.7% 42.8% 3.6%
    2004 TRUE 902 478 401 23 53.0% 44.5% 2.5%
    2004 FALSE 1932 1057 819 57 54.7% 42.4% 3.0%
    2005 TRUE 852 445 379 28 52.2% 44.5% 3.3%
    2005 FALSE 1937 1071 804 62 55.3% 41.5% 3.2%

    TOTAL TRUE 5185 2698 2331 156 52.0% 45.0% 3.0%
    FALSE 11389 6237 4795 363 54.8% 42.1% 3.2%

    Batter Singles with a Runner on First
    2000 TRUE 2924 1950 859 39 78 66.7% 29.4% 1.3% 2.7%
    2000 FALSE 6937 4779 2041 59 59 68.9% 29.4% 0.9% 0.9%
    2001 TRUE 2601 1771 732 36 60 68.1% 28.1% 1.4% 2.3%
    2001 FALSE 6463 4505 1830 56 71 69.7% 28.3% 0.9% 1.1%
    2002 TRUE 2749 1876 772 33 68 68.2% 28.1% 1.2% 2.5%
    2002 FALSE 6502 4521 1849 58 75 69.5% 28.4% 0.9% 1.2%
    2003 TRUE 2771 1951 712 42 66 70.4% 25.7% 1.5% 2.4%
    2003 FALSE 6719 4752 1861 43 64 70.7% 27.7% 0.6% 1.0%
    2004 TRUE 2753 1889 758 43 63 68.6% 27.5% 1.6% 2.3%
    2004 FALSE 6745 4777 1839 58 70 70.8% 27.3% 0.9% 1.0%
    2005 TRUE 2719 1949 673 39 58 71.7% 24.8% 1.4% 2.1%
    2005 FALSE 6794 4828 1859 49 58 71.1% 27.4% 0.7% 0.9%

    TOTAL TRUE 16517 11386 4506 232 393 68.9% 27.3% 1.4% 2.4%
    FALSE 40160 28162 11279 323 397 70.1% 28.1% 0.8% 1.0%

    Batter Singles Second with a Runner on Second
    2000 TRUE 1366 494 813 36 36.2% 59.5% 2.6%
    2000 FALSE 4445 1461 2792 145 32.9% 62.8% 3.3%
    2001 TRUE 1249 457 739 40 36.6% 59.2% 3.2%
    2001 FALSE 4240 1442 2587 156 34.0% 61.0% 3.7%
    2002 TRUE 1259 491 709 40 39.0% 56.3% 3.2%
    2002 FALSE 4335 1475 2655 150 34.0% 61.2% 3.5%
    2003 TRUE 1268 460 747 44 36.3% 58.9% 3.5%
    2003 FALSE 4337 1499 2627 155 34.6% 60.6% 3.6%
    2004 TRUE 1292 546 694 39 42.3% 53.7% 3.0%
    2004 FALSE 4240 1469 2590 144 34.6% 61.1% 3.4%
    2005 TRUE 1243 487 703 38 39.2% 56.6% 3.1%
    2005 FALSE 4335 1578 2557 145 36.4% 59.0% 3.3%

    TOTAL TRUE 7677 2935 4405 237 38.2% 57.4% 3.1%
    FALSE 25932 8924 15808 895 34.4% 61.0% 3.5%

    Tuesday, October 17, 2006

    Lyons Gone

    Not long after my previous post about Steve Lyons and Moneyball Mr. Lyons was dismissed by Fox for "racially insensitive comments" following an exchange that he and Lou Pinella had in the booth. Having not seen the actual broadcast it's kind of difficult to make a judgement but from the transcripts that have been reported, one suspects that the entire incident was a bit overblown.

    It seems as if Lyons was simply trying to be funny in tying Pinella's use of Spanish to his comment about Macro Scutaro's hitting being like finding "a wallet on Friday" and expecting to do the same again on Monday (which I thought was a great line). He probably had no idea that his comments came off sounding like they did (Spanish guys will steal your wallet or simply that Lou Pinella will steal your wallet, it's kind of hard to tell) or that they would be interpreted that way (by who I'm not sure) - the point being that the remarks were not thought out nor were they intended to offend.

    If Fox wants to fire him for not being a good analyst that's one thing (and there are many that might agree with that sentiment) but it smacks of caving to the most hyper-sensitive among us to immediately drop the axe for unscripted bantering that unfortunately took a bad turn.

    Thursday, October 12, 2006

    Buck O'Neil

    Not that I have anything much to add, especially after this wonderful piece by Bill James published on SABR-L, but I thought this piece by Alex Belth on the passing of Buck O'Neil was very appropriate. Having lived in Kansas City I can testify to the universal high regard with which he was held by everyone in the community. I met him on several occasions, the first time at a baseball card show in Overland Park where upon seeing my Cubs hat struck up a conversation about how he had coached for the Cubs and how he enjoyed the organization. Before we moved from Kansas City I took my daughters down to the Negro League Baseball Hall of Fame one Sunday when it was reported that Buck would be on hand so they could have the pleasure and memory of meeting him as well. There was a mixup and so he wasn't there but of course we again enjoyed the museum, which is a testimony to his efforts.

    Like most others I was first introduced to Buck through Ken Burns' documentary, and I think what drew people to him was the fact his love for baseball and life despite his early circumstances was so genuine and so transparent. He wasn't bitter and as a result he educated more people about the great Negro League players and the league than anyone else. It's a shame that even if his playing and managing impact wasn't deeemd worthy of inclusion in the Hall of Fame, they couldn't find a way of inducting him for his total contribution to the game.

    Tuesday, October 10, 2006

    Lyons on Moneyball, Sort Of

    I'm sure many of you caught this little conversation during tonight's ALCS Game 1 broadcast on Fox during the top of the 5th inning.

    Steve Lyons: "They [the A's] just do an outstanding job in their scouting department with Billy Beane and being able to spend the money that they have here - spend it well. They don't have alot of it but they know how to spend it."

    Lou Pinella: "So you like Moneyball then?"

    Steve Lyons: "I like some of the philosophies of Moneyball. I say give me a baseball player, give me a guy who plays baseball. Just like Billy Beane said, I was a great athlete, I wasn't a good player."

    Then the inning ended. Although time didn't allow any real explication of exactly what Lyons likes and doesn't like, I like the fact that Lyons is implying that scouting based only on tools is shortsighted just as scouting based only on undervalued skills or one dimensional skills also has its problems. The tone of the question from Pinella however, seemed just a little confrontational and Lyons responded well since it didn't appear he knew it was coming.

    The Case of the Politically Correct Pinkie

    So my wife was with our youngest daugther at her violin lesson the other day. While there the teacher in discussing the proper technique for holding the bow mentions that she is reluctant to refer to the smallest finger (pinkie finger) as "pinkie" because "several of my students have little fingers that are not pink."

    Now, the teacher is a wonderful lady and I mean no disrespect but does anyone else find that a little odd? Are we really so sensitive that the mention of the word "pinkie" will offend?

    Besides the silliness of the entire question a moment's thought tells us that the adjective pinkie must refer to something other than skin color since of course if it was in reference to pigmentation it wouldn't single out one of the five fingers. My father-in-law informs me that the word "pinkie" or "pinky" originally referred to something small or insignificant and was also used to describe small eyes or eyes half shut. My daughter's teacher can rest at ease.

    Part of the entry from the Oxford English Dictionary Online follows for those interested.

    pinkie, adj. and n.1 DRAFT REVISION Dec. 2005

    Brit. /pki/, U.S. /pki/ Forms: 17- pinky, 18- pinkey, 18- pinkie. [ PINK n.6 + -Y suffix6. Much earlier currency (from the 16th cent.) is app. implied by forms at PINKANY n.
    With sense A. cf. earlier PINK n.5, PINKING adj.1

    With sense B. 2 cf. Dutch pinkje little finger (1717 or earlier; pink in the same sense (1599 as pinck; of unknown origin, perh. originally children's language) + -je, diminutive suffix).]

    A. adj. Chiefly Sc. Small, tiny. Of the eyes: narrow, winking, half-shut. Cf. PINK n.5, PINKANY n.
    Sc. National Dict. s.v. pink records this sense as still in use in Lothian in 1965.

    1718 A. RAMSAY Christ's-kirk on Green II. 16 Meg Wallet wi her pinky Eeen, Gart Lawrie's Heart-strings dirle. 1808 J. JAMIESON Etymol. Dict. Sc. Lang., Pinkie, a term applied to small eyes. 1818 W. MIDFORD Coll. Songs 31 A bussy-tailed pinkey wee Frenchman. 1825 J. JAMIESON Etymol. Dict. Sc. Lang. Suppl. s.v., Pinkie Een, eyes that are narrow and long, and that seem half closed. 1923 G. WATSON Roxburghshire Word-bk. 235 A pinkie bairn.
    B. n.1

    1. Sc. Something very small or insignificant; a tiny thing. Now rare exc. in sense B. 2.

    1808 J. JAMIESON Etymol. Dict. Sc. Lang., Pinkie, the smallest candle that is made. 1923 G. WATSON Roxburghshire Word-bk. 235 Pinkie, anything very small.
    2. colloq. (orig. Sc.). The little finger. Also (occas.): the little toe.

    1808 J. JAMIESON Etymol. Dict. Sc. Lang., Pinkie, the little finger; a term mostly used by children, or in talking to them. 1828 D. M. MOIR Life Mansie Wauch i. 12 His pinkie was hacked off by a dragoon. 1898 J. PATON Castlebraes ix. 297 Raither..than lift yae wee pinkie tae save that Deevilish man. 1935 J. CORRIE Income 11 Then the pinkie took sair, and puir Sandy was left wi' a fit without ony taes. 1948 Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch 15 Mar. 17/4, I grip the ball with my thumb and pinky. 1965 E. TUNIS Colonial Craftsmen vi. 140 Even the most elegant lady poured tea or coffee from her cup into her saucer to cool and then, with delicately extended pinkie, drank it from the saucer. 1973 J. MARKS Mick Jagger (1974) 11 As for Mick, he splashes on some fragrance and checks his eyeliner with his pinkie. 2002 A. PHILLIPS Prague vii. 323 He brushed the wax crumbs away with speedy sweeps of his right pinkie.

    Thursday, October 05, 2006

    Enhanced Gameday

    For the playoffs is now offering it's enhanced GameDay system. What's so cool is that it includes pitch speed and trajectory information using new equipment installed in a few of the ballparks that I'm thinking works in much the same way as K-Zone does with cameras connected to servers that triangulate the location of each pitch and send their results to a central processor. Both in San Diego and at Yankee Stadium things seem to be working well.

    I especially like the pitch release point indicator as well as the two different velocities associated with each pitch that show both the "muzzle velocity" and the speed at which the pitch crosses the plate.

    Tuesday, October 03, 2006

    Dodgers 2006

    I've been spending the last couple days thinking about the Padres/Cardinals series since I'm writing a piece on it for Baseball Prospectus (incidentally the Padres in four but that's probably not surprising given what others are saying) but I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the season the Dodgers had from a graphical perspective.

    As you'll recall they lost 13 of 14 from July 13th through the July 26th and then immediately won 17 of 18 through August 15th to go from 8 games under .500 to 8 games over. They also won 9 of their last 10 to finish at 88-74. You can see the hug red V in the middle of their season that tracks their streaks and notice that poor run scoring was more prominent in their slide and better run prevention more responsible for their winning streak as their offense basically held steady since the end of July. With the loss of Pedro for the Mets and the addition of Maddux for the Dodgers I think the New Yorkers are going to have their hands full.