The Grab Bag: Sabermetrics

The NLCS starts today, and the San Francisco Giants are taking on the Philadelphia Phillies. The main story lines so far have centered on the pitching for each side, and maybe the Philly bats to some extent as well.

(1) The line from Lincecum’s first postseason start (a complete game shutout!) was pretty nice – 9 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 0 R, 14 K. But the most amazing stat compiled that day was the 31 swing-and-misses by the Atlanta Braves!

31 swings and a miss! The league average is about 8%, or about 8 swings and a miss per 100 pitches; at 119 pitches, Lincecum was at a healthy 26%. That’s about 10 standard deviations above the average. Not bad, not bad at all. As they said on NPR’s All Things Considered, this was the 1812 Overture with canons blazing.

Of course, Halladay’s no-hitter was pretty ridiculous too … the first in a short 54 years, so that wasn’t too shabby either. But he can’t do that again, right?!

(2) I overhead the TBS announcers say that the Phillies catcher, Carlos Ruiz, is the best fastball hitter on the team. On a team with Ryan Howard, Jason Werth, Chase Utley (not to mention Victorino or Rollins), that sounded a bit off.

Thankfully, Fangraphs came to the rescue with a table ranking the Philly hitters against the fastball (and other pitches). No big surprise that he’s the 5th best fastball hitter on the team. The TBS announcers are pretty poor overall, but this was pretty sad. Even a casual fan would know this doesn’t pass the smell test.

[Note: After I wrote this, Ruiz turned a high fastball from Lincecum around into the right field stands … %$*@ !]

(3) The Fangraphs site is a treasure trove of info about baseball, and one of the stats they calculate is WAR, or Wins-Above-Replacement. They then have a model to convert WAR into dollar values, which essentially asks the question – if you had to buy this production on the market, how much would you have to pay? The WAR Dollar Value doesn’t mean you should actually pay the player that much, as it’s completely backward looking, but it’s a nice way of seeing how much a player’s performance was worth.

Since I need to re-learn some of my R programming, I figured I’d play around with some of their data. Take a look at the plot below, with Number of Wins on the x-axis and Payroll ROI on the y-axis.

Payroll ROI is calculated using those WAR values, aggregated per team, and then calculated as an ROI to the actual payroll of the team. Thus, the Padres, based on the stats their player’s accumulated, could have been mistaken for a $160 million team (even though their actual payroll was under $40 mil)! The Yankees meanwhile, spent a whopping $206 million on their 2010 team, but “only” received production estimated at $188 million.

The horizontal dashed line is the median ROI (62.8% this year), while the vertical dashed line is for a .500 record (or 81 wins). The quadrants break down like this:

– Quadrant 1 has the Giants and Rangers, amongst other teams. These are teams that were effective (won over 50% of their games) and also efficient (players performed above their salary level);

– Quadrant 2 has the Phillies and Yankees, amongst others. These are teams that were effective, but not so efficient. They got a lot of value from their players, but not relative to the amount they were paying them. (Paging A.J. Burnett ….)

– Quadrant 3 has the Mariners and Pirates, amongst others. These teams were neither effective nor efficient. The Mariners had a $98.4 million payroll, but their players performed at a $76.3 million clip.

– Quadrant 4 has the Brewers and Marlins, amongst others. These teams were efficient, in that they got more out of their players than the payroll would suggest, but that doesn’t mean they broke the magical 50% barrier.

It makes sense that those teams in Quadrant 3 are due for some management turnover, but those in Q2 and Q4 might be as well. Q1 is where everybody would like to be: efficient and effective.

That’s what the colors indicate – green means they made the playoffs; red means the manager was fired; orange means the manager might be re-hired, but it’s not clear yet; blue means the manager retired on his own (for example, Bobby Cox retired from the Braves after 25 years there).

Obviously, managers in charge of teams that were both inefficient and  ineffective are more likely to be on the hot seat. The managerial openings on those effective teams (Blue Jays and Braves) are due to retirements rather than being forced out.  Finally, the Cardinals and White Sox are up in the air, as there are questions whether the manager will be brought back. They were somewhat effective and efficient, but nothing special.

Being efficient is no guarantee of making the post-season, though, and big-spenders like the Yankees can get away with more dead weight on the team. There’s no real surprise in these general conclusions, but the value the Padres received from their low payroll roster is pretty astonishing.

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2 responses to “The Grab Bag: Sabermetrics

  1. ¿Cómo?

  2. I know it’s a shock, but I do have some interests besides chess. =)

    We’ll be back to the regularly scheduled programming tomorrow I think.

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