Pittsburgh has an analytical sabermetric baseball columnist! Plus he writes well, thinks clearly about the game, and has a sense of humor. Excellent!
A few years ago a regular scanned all of the non player profile pages of Alex Patton’s roto ouvre. They were posted for a time at rototouts.com, but when I let that site lapse I didn’t get them reposted until this week. They’re classic, funny, smart, sometimes exciting and sometimes aggravating. I can’t think of a better place to get into the murky theoretical issues in fantasy baseball, and haul them out into the daylight. Prosit.
I love it. A completely different perspective on the nature of the game of baseball. I’ve long thought that basketball might become a much better game if they dumped the transition and the game became a series of set plays launched from scrimmage, like football. No tackling, though, I don’t think. Stevenson’s thought experiment recasts the nature of the baseball schedule, and suggests how it might change our perceptions of the role of luck and small differences. Good stuff.
This is not a recommendation, but it isn’t a condemnation either. Mr. Dolphin approaches the issue of Clutch Hitting with all his statistical wherewithall intact, and uses his tools to figure out if hitters perform better when the game’s on the line.
He swings and misses in part because, of course, clutch hitting is always in opposition to clutch pitching. If everyone wants to win how do you measure their desire?
His study doesn’t seem to take this into account. Yet he does find what he claims to be a statistically significant difference when hitters face pitchers in “clutch” situations.
Others may better critique Dolphin’s methods, but I find his attempt to take on the sabermetric shibboleth that there “is no such thing as clutch hitting” kind of charming. But I reference it here as a warning. He may well be right, but until he can clarify in English what all his efforts really amount to, I’m not going to pay much attention.
Ps. The author of this study is one of the authors of The Book, which attempts to statistically answer some of the more contentious baseball issues using genuine data and real math. The Book is on its way to my house, and I’ll write about it at some point. I guess my biggest point is that as interesting as technical baseball statistical issues are, if you can’t write about them as anything other than a math problem, you’re probably not going to get a lot of traction.
I seem to have waded into the Hardball Times and I may never get out.
John Dewan is Bill James’ somewhat more pragmatic partner, and his attempt to harness the great cache of information that Baseball Info Solutions has harnessed the last three years in service of identifying what qualities make a good fielder have to be respected.
Dan Fox, in his review, gets pretty excited about some of the minutia, like whether Alfonso Soriano is better going to his right or left, or on balls in the air or on the ground. It would be so great to have confidence in these numbers, but even with all the safeguards and adjusters in place in TFB, the small samples and differing conditions for all players make it really really really hard to be definitive about objective defensive measures.
But this sytematic approach may teach us something we need to move to the next level. I’m not a naysayer at all. As Dan points out, the data is the thing here. How we massage it and to what ends is going to determine its value. My copy hasn’t come yet. I can’t wait.
It has been clear for years that the science of player projection is something of a scam. There is a finite amount of stuff we can know about a player’s performance the next year and a certain amount that is stochastic, random, unknowable. I’ve put the unknowable part at about 25 percent, based on various ways of measuring the accuracy of my expert projections.
This big random component means that the lens of a single season tells us only a little about about a player’s actual abilities. And while we use these small slices to tell us more about the player’s game, as a player ages his game changes. The measures that matter for a 25 year old are different for a 30 year old and different still for a 35 year old. The very smart Tom Tango set out to see how much of the potentially knowable 75 percent he could project using a very raw set of weighted averages building in regressive factors, and writes about it here.
Have a month or two to do nothing but click on links on a website? Visit Fan Graphs. You’ll find stats here, but you’ll also find 70 charts for every player tracking daily and seasonal trends. Most immediately interesting to me were the daily graphs tracking AVG, OBP, SLG, K/9, BB/9, and on and on. Stats are compared to a ML average, so you can visually judge relative improvement or decline. Plus righty/lefty and home/away splits are also graphed. Simply awesome.
It’s out, and features talk about starting a keeper league, choosing between Jeff Mathis and Ryan Doumit, and defense: does it matter? As well as a little chatter.
It is an axiom that there is nothing more boring than hearing about someone else’s fantasy baseball team. Unless it’s their fantasy football team. Most of us figure this out pretty quickly, and those of us who don’t most likely live alone. Sam Walker doesn’t live alone, but when this Wall Street Journal sports columnist committed himself to winning Tout Wars his first season playing fantasy baseball he clearly knew that he wasn’t the story. Not all of it, anyway.
Which is why his book is such a hoot. Rather than adopt the solitary lifestyle of the typical fanatic Walker uses his baseball credentials and ample payroll (he spent close to $50K during his year of play trying to win Tout Wars AL 2004) to rub the fantasy game against the real game. And while he says that he hoped to use the sparks that flew to beat the so-called experts at their own game, his real subject here is the fire of baseball’s essence.
Is the game the domain of the grizzled scouts, the usually less-than-introspective ballplayers, the front office guys, the most diehard of fans, the usually less-than-introspective sabermetricians, or who? Walker has ingeniously woven the stories of all these unusually focussed people into one season in Tout Wars, during which he hired Sig Mehdal as his stat guy (Sig went on to contribute his injury database work to the Bill James Handbook, but that was later), and Nando, another fine fellow as his player biography expert, an astrologer (who perhaps he didn’t listen to closely enough), an exotic dancer (to mess with geeky minds during the Tout Wars auction) and a host of fantasy services, all with the aim of gaining a decisive edge.
But if that sounds like rotopass.com or the story of a guy’s fantasy team, don’t be misled. Walker crisscrosses the country, meeting fantasy experts, his opponents (often the same guys) and many of the players he rosters and gets their reactions to his team, his proposed and executed trades (I’ve long enjoyed David Ortiz stories, but Ortiz’s response to Walker asking if he would mind being traded for Alfonzo Soriano is indelible), their feelings about what sabermetricians say about the way they play, and his attemptsâ€”as his season careers out of controlâ€”to get managers and general managers to take advantage of the special information he has gleaned from watching the game so closely (and listening to his advisors), but all of this is informed by his larger themes and not the question of whether his team will win or not.
Walker is a fine observer, a funny writer, and a good sport. His attempts to get Jose Guillen reinstated by the Angels late in 2004 because it would be more fair to his roto team is a clever bit of street theater that I suspect is much more successful in the telling than it was on the street. It also makes Mike Scioscia look good at exactly the moment he might have looked his worst. Walker’s book shines in his conversations with Jacque Jones, Doug Mientkiewicz, Bill Mueller, and other players, general managers and fantasy experts. Above all this is a baseball book.
It is while he with the first group that Walker shows us something new about the game, but he comes to feel quite comfortable with the so-called experts, and it is his profiles of these guys that are most impressive (because I know many of them I can vouch for his good eye) and risky. I enjoyed them immensely, but it is always interesting to read about people you know. Will the general reader? I suspect those who take BaseballHQ or Rotowire or Baseball Info Solutions or Wise Guy Baseball or Stats Inc or Matt Berry or even Baseball Prospectus (at least Joe Sheehan) seriously will get a kick out of this book above and beyond all the fun baseball info (on a theoretical level, Walker doesn’t break new ground, nor does he try to).
But the baseball stuff, the players and those who select them, and Walker’s lively storytelling will carry those who don’t give a hoot about Ron Shandler and Bill James and Keith Law and Mike Gimble and Dan Okrent and the other geeks whose stories he tells, through a gentle and appealling baseball book that pokes and prods our understanding of what the game is and how it works.
For my part, I was a founding member of Tout Wars. My friend and sometimes partner Alex Patton named the league, though I still like (given our roots in rejection of LABR) my alternative name: REBL (Rotisserie Experts Baseball League). And I would have loved to have someone like Sam Walker pick apart my game play the way he does that of Trace Wood (who won TW the year Sam writes about) and the other guys he played against that year. I had the pleasure of getting Sam to write for The Fantasy Baseball Guide 2006, not knowing that he had a four month old in the house, but reading his book I wish I played in the AL Tout Wars that year rather than the NL.
But that’s vanity. This may be the most fun book you can can read about fantasy baseball that isn’t really devoted to helping you win. And, unlike the Universal Baseball Association, Henry J. Waugh, Proprietor, by Robert Coover, which Walker doesn’t mention, it might actually help you win anyway.
For various reasons we’ve been looking at the issue of unearned runs and how they affect our perceptions of a pitcher. This Rich Lederer article digs in and gets more specific, which may help savvy fantasy players identify guys who might get lucky. (And reveal why it hurts more when they don’t.)