Sunday, September 14, 2014

Game Wrap 9/14/2014: Dodgers 4 Giants 2

The galling part of this loss is the Giants actually had a chance to win this game.  Yes, a game against Clayton Kershaw with their own #5 pitcher on the mound!  In the end, I wonder if the Giants felt like they had to do something extraordinary to beat Kershaw and ended up trying to do to much and more than they had to?  Key Lines"

Andrew Susac- 2 for 4, 2B.  BA= .286.  Two knocks with a double off the best pitcher in baseball?  Very nice for the rook!

Joaquin Arias- 2 for 4.  BA= .249.  Arias remains one of the hottest hitters on the team and probably in baseball.

Matt Duffy- 1 for 1.  BA= .224.  Duffy is now 3 for 8 as a PH and drove in another run with this one.  Matt Duffy!

Yusmeiro Petit-  7 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 8 K's.  ERA= 3.64.  Petit pitched a strong game.  The key play of the game came in the second inning.  With Hanley Ramirez at 1B and 1 out, Juan Uribe singled past Joe Panik into short right-CF.  Hunter Pence threw to 3B to try to get the lead runner and the throw was offline, although Pablo Sandoval kind of just waived at it as it went by.  Ramirez then headed for home and scored on another throwing error by Petit who was backing up the play.  Later, after driving in a run with a single, Buster Posey was thrown out at 2B trying to stretch it into a double.  That's what I mean by trying to do too much.  Giants might have still lost the game 3-2, but with runners at first and third and no runs in instead of a runner at 3B and 1 run in, the outcome of the second inning might have been different.  As for Posey's out, he might not have scored anyway, probably would not have, but at least Kershaw would have had to throw some more pitches, which was an issue in this game.

Hunter Strickland- 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 K.  ERA= 0.00.  Another successful inning for the fireballer who hit 99 MPH in this one.  Bochy ratcheted up the pressure in this one.  It was not a Save or Hold situation, but the Giants were still very much in the game.  Gotta think Strickland is going to have a chance to win a roster spot next spring and might even have a chance to be on the postseason roster this year in case of an injury(wink, wink).  I mean, what Giants fan does not remember K-Rod?

The Loss left the Giants trailing the NL West leading Dodgers by 3 games with 13 to play.  The Giants are 3 up on the Pirates for the home-field advantage in the Wild-Card play-in game and they lead the Brewers by 4.5 games for the second WC spot.

The Giants immediately fly to Arizona to start a 3 game series against the D'Backs with Ryan Vogelsong facing Wade Miley in game one tomorrow evening.

Thoughts on Player Value Part III

In Part I of this series, we discussed some basic types of baseball data and statistics.  In Part II, we looked at defensive metric systems, specifically UZR and how it is derived.  Bill James, a pioneer in statistical analysis of baseball, or saber metrics, wanted a way to translate player performance into value for his team.  Since the goal of all this is to win games, he wanted to quantify how much each component of what we can measure about a player's performance contributes to his team winning.   He came  up with a number he called Win Shares.

To put it in simple terms, when a player crosses home plate and scores a run, some of that was produced by that player getting on base in the first place and some was produced by the player who got the hit to drive him in.  Even if the player hit a HR, which on the surface would appear to be 100% the work of that player, what about the player who might have gotten a hit earlier in the game who neither scored a run nor drove one in, but his hit allowed the guy who hit the HR that one extra AB late in the game?

As time went on, statisticians were able to tease out averages of how many runs a walk, single, double, triple, HR, SB would produce and how many potential runs would not score as a result of a strikeout or CS.  Since different ballparks make it easier or harder to produce runs, they came up with adjustments for Park Effects.  These parameters were then all fed into a very long equation and a single number was produced that has become known as Wins Above Replacement or WAR.  Replacement is defined as the number of wins a team made up of "replacement players" or players brought up from AAA in an emergency would theoretically win, based on historical numbers.

When you look at lists of players ranked by WAR, you find names near the top that you do not find in more lists ranked by more traditional stats.  Since WAR is a single number that theoretically tells you the global value of a player, the number has become a point of intense debate when end-of-season discussions about who should be named MVP come up.  If WAR is, in fact, an accurate measure of global player value, then it should be simple to identify the MVP.  It's the guy with the highest WAR!

There's the rub.  Just how accurate is WAR for a given player?  The derivation of the number contains so many data points, so much subjective judgement(particularly on the defensive side) and so many adjustments for things like Park Factors, the potential for a harmonic convergence of error to produce an erroneous outlier would appear to be relatively large.  The WAR apologists can point to cumulative WAR scores that closely match numbers of team wins as a validation of the statistic.  WAR critics point to surprising names at the top of WAR rankings as reasons to question whether it is always accurate for individual players.

One such name that comes up over and over is Ben Zobrist who by WAR was the second most valuable player in all of baseball from 2009-2012, trailing only Miguel Cabrera and by just a small margin.  Zobrist is a good player who does a lot of things well, but who does not do any one thing great.  Is he really almost as valuable as Miguel Cabrera who was crazy good during those years?
Since WAR is the only way to objectively measure that, the argument quickly becomes circular.  Neil Weinberg of Fangraphs wrote a recent piece in the Hardball Times section arguing that the reason why Zobrist is so valuable is because of his position versatility, except that WAR theoretically levels the playing field for different positions.

Right now, Alex Gordon is tied for 3'rd place in MLB WAR at 6.0 despite a pedestrian OPS of .792 and playing LF to boot.  Is Alex Gordon really the 3'rd most valuable position player in all of baseball? You really have to wonder, especially when you see that his defensive number is almost 4 times as high as his average for the past 3 seasons and higher than his past 3 seasons combined!

In 2012, Martin Prado, a versatile player similar to Ben Zobrist, put up a WAR of 5.5 for the Atlanta Braves, fueled in part by a similar defensive outlier.  This may have contributed to Dave Cameron's assessment of the trade for Justin Upton as being a "win-win."  As in the Prado-Upton trade, I personally do not believe that a straight up trade of Miguel Cabrera for Ben Zobrist in 2009 would have been a "win-win", and the team receiving Zobrist would not be the one with the win!

So, should WAR be the determiner of MVP?  My answer is it should definitely be a strong contributing factor in the decisionmaking process, but you cannot blindly give the award to the guy with the top WAR number.  You need to be aware of the limitations of the statistic and the potential for it to deliver outlier numbers.

Game Wrap 9/13/2014: Dodgers 17 Giants 0

The Dodgers answered Friday's beatdown with a beatdown of their own tonight, almost doubling the margin of victory above what the Giants laid on them the night before.  Key Lines:

Tim Hudson- 1 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 0 BB, 2 K's.   ERA= 3.41.  Huddy has clearly not been as sharp in the second half and it snowballed in this one.  Too many innings at too advanced an age might be catching up with him.

Tim Lincecum- 3 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 1 K.  ERA- 4.88.  Also not an encouraging appearance by Timmy as he allowed 2 inherited runs to score in addition to the 5 he was charged with.

Mike Kickham- 1.2 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 1 K.  ERA= 22.50.  At this point, Kickham seems to be going backward in his development.

Brett Bochy- 1.1 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 1 K.  ERA= 13.50.  Melonhead Jr. makes finally makes his MLB debut.  Whew!  Glad we got that out of the way!  The old man may not be calling his number again anytime soon.

Erik Cordier- 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K's.  ERA= 0.00.  I don't know what he was throwing, but if the man with a triple digit FB keeps putting up zeros in the BB column, he just might win himself a longer term bullpen gig.

The Loss dropped the Giants back to a 2 game deficit to the NL West leading Dodgers.  The Pirates lost, so the Giants 4 game lead for the home field advantage in the Wild Card playoff game remained.

Yusmeiro Petit takes on the fearsome Clayton Kershaw trying for a series win this afternoon.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Down on the Farm 9/12/2014

The Binghampton Mets topped the Richmond Flying Squirrels 2-1 to complete a 3 games sweep of the Eastern League Championship Series.  Key Lines:

Ty Blach(LHP)- 7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 7 K's.

Possible Blach's best game of the season from a K/BB standpoint.  I would think we will see him in Fresno next spring.

That concludes the Giants organizational minor league season.  We have the rest of the MLB season and the whole offseason to sort through the Giants farm system and analyze where this season leaves them looking to the future.  Should be a lot of fun!

Thanks for reading and commenting, everybody!

Game Wrap 9/12/2014: Giants 9 Dodgers 0

The Giants jumped on an apparently ailing Hyun-Jin Ryu for 4 runs in the first inning and took the first game of the big weekend series with the archrival Dodgers in dominating fashion.  Key Lines:

Buster Posey- 2 for 4, 2B, BB.  BA= .310.  Buster Posey continues to state his case for MVP.  He probably needs to win the batting title to have a chance.  He trails Josh Harrison(.318), Justin Morneau(.315) and Andrew McCutchen(.311).

Hunter Pence- 2 for 5.  BA= .295.  Speaking of MVP candidates, Pence is currently tied with Buster in fWAR at 5.3.  Pence and Posey are currently tied for 6'th in fWAR with Jason Heyward.  Jonathan Lucroy continues to lead the pack.

Joaquin Arias- 2 for 4.  BA= .243.  There were some commenters on Extra Giants who did not like Arias starting at 1B, but he has been hot was 3 for 8 against Ryu coming in.  Hey, ownage is ownage!

Brandon Crawford- 2 for 3, 2B, HR(9), BB.  BA= .238.  Crawford has come to life in September hitting .414 after hitting .173 and .193 in July and August.

Travis Ishikawa- 1 for 1, HR(3).  BA= .276.  I'm not sure I want Brandon Belt back at this point.  Over the course of a full season?  Yes.  Coming off a prolonged stint on the DL in the thick of a pennant race?  I'll take the guy who's been getting it done and has his timing down.

Madison Bumgarner- 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 9 K's.  ERA= 2.91.  The Giants gave Bummy the luxury of a big lead by the second inning and he cruised.  There was one tense moment in the 6'th with the score still 4-0 when Justin Turner walked to load the bases after 11 pitches, but Bummy got AGone on a flyout to CF on just 3 more pitches to end the threat.  2 BB's is a lot for Bumgarner, so it was probably not on purpose, but you have to wonder about him hitting Hanley Ramirez after HanRam had doubled off him in the 2'nd, then striking out Van Slyke.

Hyun-Jin Ryu(Dodgers)- 1 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 1 K.  ERA= 3.38.  Ryu didn't look too comfortable out there and did not come back out for the second inning.  The report was a sore shoulder.

The Win brought the Giants to 1 game behind the NL West leading Dodgers.  The Giants continue to lead the Pirates by 4 games for the home field advantage in the Wild Card Play-In game.  The lead the Brewers by 5.5 games and the Braves by 7.

Tim Hudson tries to clinch a series win tonight facing Zach Greinke.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Thoughts on Player Value Part II

In the first post on Player Value, we discussed some of the basic types of baseball related data along with the strengths and weaknesses of each type.  If I was to summarize this post as succinctly as possible, I would say that primary data is the most reliable while the more calculations you have to make to produce a given statistic, the more opportunity for error is introduced.  On the other hand, primary data may be limited in what it tells you about a player's performance than calculated data which is why we often prefer calculated data despite the increase opportunity for error.

Offensive statistics have been around since practically the invention of the game, including fairly advanced and calculated measurements.  I recall reading about Slugging Percentage for the first time in the 1961 World Book Encyclopedia Yearbook!  On the other hand, defensive statistics have been extremely limited, probably due to difficulties in measurement.  For decades, defensive measurement was limited to Errors, Chances and Fielding Percentage, measures that I think we would all agree do not begin to quantify the contributions, positive or negative, of a player to defense.  Defense was largely in the eye of the beholder.  The conventional wisdom was that once you one a Gold Glove award for defensive excellence, you could pretty much count on winning it every year for the rest of your career.  You were also more likely to win a Gold Glove if you hit well too!

At the time Moneyball was written, statistics oriented GM"s like Billy Beane had come to totally discount defense in the formula for winning baseball.  Since they had no way to measure it, they preferred to write if off as a parameter to consider, rather than rely on scouting or "the smell test."  Their attitude was, "if you can't measure it, it doesn't exist."

Since then, at least two fairly sophisticated defensive measurement systems have become fairly well known, and now that they have something that can be expressed as a number, the Billy Beane's of the world have suddenly embraced defense as in important contributor to a player's value.  Possibly the best known of these systems is UZR or Ultimate Zone Rating as championed by a website known as Fangraphs.

I do not pretend to completely understand UZR.  I will try to summarize it here, but I highly suggest visiting the Fangraphs site linked to the left and clicking on the Glossary tab at the top of the page, then look for an article called UZR Primer.  That is the most complete explanation of the system that I know of, and it's from the site that champions it.

Basically, UZR is derived from the charted observations of knowledgeable people of each and every ball in play in MLB.  Judgements are made as to type of hit, degree of difficulty fielding it, location.  Frequency of plays made are then compared to historical norms based on multiple years of data.  Throws are also charted as well as limiting the progress of baserunners.  All this data is then quantified into a number which tells you how many outs above or below average a fielder achieves and this is then translated into a form of Win Shares to be added into an overall WAR score.

I think we would all agree that UZR tells us a lot more about a player's defense than the old errors, chances and fielding percentage.  As we learned in Part I of this series, though, the more variables and the more calculations involved in producing a statistic, the higher the probability of introducing error into the process.  The big question about UZR is not that it is measuring the right components of defense, but whether it is doing so accurately.  Fairly wide swings in UZR from year-to-year continue to be problematic for the statistic.

Forget for a minute, that the entire process is base on the subjective opinion of an observer.  The system also has significant structural problems in the calculations themselves.  One big problem with UZR is what I will call Effective Sample Size.  To illustrate this problem, let's look at Hunter Pence who grades out as a roughly average defensive RF, who plays the position exclusively and who plays every game, so his sample size should be as large as you can get for the position.  UZR has 6 degrees of difficulty in it's ratings.  I list them here with the expected percentage of successful plays in parentheses for each:  Impossible(0%), Remote(1-10%), Unlikely(10-40%), Even(40-60%), Likely(60-90%), Routine(90-100%).

Now, I will list Hunter Pence's percentage success rate for each category this year with the number of chances for each in parentheses:  Impossible-0%(56), Remote- 9.1%(11), Unlikely-22.2%(9), Even- 57.1%(7), Likely-100%(15), Routine- 99.2%(264!).

As you can see, the range of plays sorted by degree of difficulty is a reverse bell curve skewed heavily to the routine.  The vast majority of plays are going to be made close to 100% of the time or 0% of the time.  The types of plays that would be expected to separate a good fielder from a bad fielder, Remote, Unlikely, Even and Likely combine to make up a remarkably small sample size, which I would call the Effective Sample Size.  As few as 1 or 2 plays made or not made the Remote category can make a large difference in your final number.  Differences in UZR are derived from remarkably small Effective Sample Sizes!

This explains, at least in part why we see such large variations in UZR from year-to-year.  Add in the impact of injuries and the normal trajectory of aging and it can be almost impossible to factor out whether yearly swings in UZR are due to chance, injury, age, or skills.  It also calls into question whether even 3 years of data is gives you an accurate picture of a player whose physical ability may have eroded over that period of time.

Still, I would much rather know what a player's UZR is than simply his errors, chances and fielding percentage simply because it includes information about important factors in defense even if that information is flawed by the methodology.  On the other hand, I maintain that there is still a significant role for subjective observation, or the "Smell Test" in evaluating the defensive skills of baseball players due to flaws in the methodology of deriving UZR and other defensive metrics.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Game Wrap 9/11/2014: Giants 6 D'Backs 2

The Giants completed a relatively easy sweep of the D'Backs, currently one of the worst teams in baseball, to set up a showdown with the archrival Dodgers over the weekend.  Key Lines:

Angel Pagan- 2 for 4, 2B, BB.  BA= .307.  When Angel gets on base, good things happen. He has scored 8 runs in his last 10 games.

Buster Posey- 3 for 5, 2B.  BA= .309.  Buster stays hot.

Hunter Pence- 1 for 2, 2 BB.   BA= .294.  Pence can beat you in so many ways.  Posey is terrific too, but Pence is my choice for MVP.

Brandon Crawford- 2 for 4.  BA= .235.  Crawford is hitting .333 over his last 10 games.

Jake Peavy- 5.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 8 K's.  ERA= 3.93.  Peavy with another strong start.  He did not complete 6 innings and threw 92 pitches, maybe because of all the K's.

The Win pulled the Giants up to a 2 game deficit to the NL West leading Dodgers.  The also lead the Pirates by 4.5 games pending the outcome of the Pirates-Phillies game for the home field advantage in a Wild Card Play-In Game.

The Giants now begin a classic late season For-All-The-Marbles series against the Hated Ones in AT&T Park with Madison Bumgarner leading off Friday night facing Hyun-Jin Ryu.