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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Gammons and Cyberspace

A nice column yesterday by Peter Gammons on the impact of the Internet on the sports as well as the political culture (similar to another column he wrote back in 2006). Two quotes in the column in particular caught my eye (other than the mention of this blog, Baseball Prospectus, and The Hardball Times albeit sadly not in that order) that deserve a few comments.

First, Gammons says:

I make no bones about my strong feelings about the human element. Pure numbers cannot do justice to character and drive and energy. They cannot measure the impact Robin Yount had on teammates when he ran down the first-base line at the same breakneck speed (one scout had nearly 90 Yount games in a six- or seven-year period and claimed he never got Yount faster than 3.9 seconds, or slower than 4.0).

What a wonderful anecdote and one that relates to what I found when looking at the baserunning exploits of Yount in last week's column. To summarize, Yount was the only player who was a career leader (from 1956-2007 anyway) in multiple of the five baserunning metrics. Overall Yount contributed +54 theoretical runs ranking him 13th in total number of runs. However, he was first in advancing on hits (EqHAR) at +39 runs and first in advancing on fly balls (EqAAR) at +17 runs. He did this despite costing his team 7 runs in stolen bases (EqSBR) and a half run in advancing on passed balls, balks, and wild pitches (EqOAR).

Below you'll find Yount's career baserunning statistics.


Year Opps EqGAR Opps EqSBR Opps EqAAR Opps EqHAR Opps EqOAR Opps EqRuns
1974 24 0.8 15 -3.0 19 1.0 38 2.1 203 1.2 299 2.1
1975 42 -0.9 17 0.1 37 -0.2 42 1.1 317 0.1 455 0.3
1976 33 0.6 31 -3.9 49 -0.7 42 2.2 311 -0.6 466 -2.2
1977 39 0.0 24 -0.5 49 0.5 63 0.4 397 -0.1 572 0.4
1978 27 -0.4 21 0.5 32 0.4 41 0.9 278 -0.7 399 0.7
1979 30 0.9 23 -1.1 47 2.5 43 2.6 311 2.0 454 6.9
1980 39 1.2 27 0.7 46 1.7 46 2.5 353 0.0 511 6.0
1981 26 -0.2 5 0.1 30 0.8 29 1.5 199 0.0 289 2.2
1982 46 0.9 17 0.9 60 2.5 47 3.5 399 0.3 569 8.0
1983 29 -0.8 15 -0.4 53 0.9 47 3.3 343 -0.8 487 2.3
1984 43 -0.7 18 1.1 56 0.9 64 2.6 386 -0.1 567 3.8
1985 20 -0.2 15 -0.7 24 0.1 51 3.5 252 -0.8 362 1.9
1986 40 0.7 20 0.6 42 1.8 47 1.8 367 -0.4 516 4.6
1987 39 0.0 26 -2.2 50 1.0 32 1.3 406 0.9 553 1.1
1988 25 0.2 24 2.4 49 -0.6 45 1.1 397 0.1 540 3.2
1989 29 1.5 21 1.6 53 0.5 61 0.4 402 -0.9 566 3.1
1990 23 0.7 21 -1.6 46 2.1 52 2.6 360 0.6 502 4.4
1991 16 0.5 9 -1.2 43 0.5 39 2.1 277 -1.2 384 0.7
1992 32 0.0 20 -0.7 47 0.9 44 2.3 311 -0.6 454 1.9
1993 16 0.3 11 0.4 30 0.2 48 1.5 258 0.4 363 2.7
618 5.3 380 -6.8 862 16.7 921 39.4 6527 -0.5 9308 54.1



Yount managed to turn in a positive run value in EqHAR in each of his 20 seasons - a rare feat to say the least.

I was also interested by this comment in Gammons' piece.

Bill James is trying to define clutch, what made George Brett so different, or sets David Ortiz, when healthy, apart in swagger and presence. You can present me with 4,765 pages of anti-Derek Jeter material; it won't work, I watch him too much.

Although he mentions in the column that he was reading The Hardball Times apparently he didn't let Tom Tango's excellent piece titled "With or Without Derek Jeter" sink in. In that article Tom uses Retrosheet data to demonstrate without a doubt (at least to me) that Jeter is among the worst fielding shortstops of his generation by showing that when Jeter is on the field, regardless of the other context which Tom does a great job of neutralizing, fewer batted balls are turned into outs. Period. And one would think that should be the bottom line when evaluating defense.

In tomorrow's Schrodinger's Bat at Baseball Prospectus I go one more round with the fielding system dubbed Simple Fielding Runs (SFR) that I developed for use with Retrosheet style play by play data. In the article I compare SFR to UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) as well as John Dewan's Plus/Minus system. Not coincidentally both Plus/Minus and SFR rate Derek Jeter as the worst shortstop in baseball from 2005 through 2007 and of course UZR is no fan either. For my part, here are Jeter's SFR numbers since 2002 (ExR is expected runners, Rn is actual runners, and Balls are the number of balls allocated to Jeter's area of responsibility).


Year Balls ExR Rn Diff SFR
2002 461 14 10 4 3
2003 479 119 139 -20 -15
2004 637 154 151 3 2
2005 721 183 195 -13 -9
2006 625 163 174 -11 -8
2007 615 168 194 -26 -20
3538 800 863 -64 -47


So over the course of six seasons Jeter is worth -47 runs by handling 64 fewer balls than would have been expected.

What I find interesting about Gammons' comment (and his take on Jeter is of course not a rare one and so I'm not just picking on Gammons) is the almost absolute faith in observation over other evidence when the evidence from every analytical tool available concurs as to the quality of Jeter's defense. Perhaps people are simply wired differently with some inherently more skeptical of what they see (or think they see) and therefore more willing to let other kinds of input shape their opinions. I'll admit it's kind of a mystery to me.

7 comments:

Bogart in P Towne said...

Has there been any type of in depth analysis of Khalil Greene's defensive prowess? In San Diego he is considered a defensive whiz...even most of the national media refer to him as a plus defender, but the stats seem to suggest otherwise. I guess, like Jeter, it pays to have a flashy move.

Dan Agonistes said...

This is not prompted by a comment of course but I wanted to add an explanatory note.

Although Gammons' comment was in a paragraph that started with clutch hitting, I took from the context of his earlier statement about holding THT08 and the fact that what people "attack" Jeter for (it is the most written about subject in sabermetric circles regarding him) is his defense, that he must be referring to fielding.

I guess I could be wrong...

Dan Agonistes said...

Responding to Bogart:

That's a bit of an interesting topic. For the record I have Greene at:

2003 +0 (very small sample)
2004 +9
2005 +1
2006 +10
2007 +16

…which compares pretty favorably with UZR

2003 -1 (very small sample)
2004 +10
2005 +3
2006 +7
2007 +6 (half season)

And so based on these I would consider him a "plus defender" (I don't have the Plus/Minus numbers handy but certainly that system rates him lower than SFR and UZR). FRAA, however, has him at…

2003 -1
2004 -7
2005 -12
2006 +5
2007 -8

I'm not sure what's going on here but given that SFR and UZR agree pretty closely I would still rate him as a plus defender.

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