Throw It Like a Ballplayer

providing baseball commentary and ponderings since April 2010

Archive for the ‘Statistics’ Category

Meet Me in Saint Louis…

Posted by dannmckeegan on January 25, 2011

Chemistry Over Replacement Player. aka CARP. aka “The Kevin Millar Effect.” aka “Aaron Miles‘ Continued Employment.” And so on and so forth. You can never have too many clubhouse guys, or so the saying goes. And fortunately for the five other teams in the National League Central, no one over the years has informed Tony LaRussa that it doesn’t help if your good clubhouse guys are also guys who never should leave the dugout. Thankfully this off-season St. Louis has made it a priority to improve their CARP rather than their WAR (Wins Above Replacement) potential. With the recent signing of free agent utility man Nick Punto – whose CARP apparently didn’t outweigh his SUCC (Suckiness Under Competitive Circumstances) in CARP-heavy Minnesota – St. Louis has committed itself to an opening day infield that will contain (besides Prince Albert) some combination of Skip Schumaker, Ryan Theriot, Nick Punto and rookie Allen Craig. In the words of C. Montgomery Burns, “Excellent…” Read the rest of this entry »


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Quick thought on “clutch”

Posted by dannmckeegan on December 20, 2010

A clutch hitter is the kind of guy you always want coming up with the game on the line. Big situations demand big-time players with big-time confidence. Or so conventional wisdom dictates. Sabermetrics has yielded many zealots both defending and denying the existence of clutch hitters. On one side is the sabermetric majority (and baseball fan minority, I presume) that accepts evidence that clutch performances exist despite a lack of long-term consistency in individual “clutch” numbers for a given player. The other side consists of the faithful, the true believers, those who want to believe in the Clutch Player in the same way one buys into historical clean-up jobs on national or sports heroes.

Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus puts it beautifully when he writes:

In trying to get across the notion that no players possess a special ability to perform in particular situations, the usual line we use is that clutch performances exist, not clutch players. That’s wrong. The correct idea is that clutch performances exist, and clutch players exist: every last one of them.

What he’s saying is that, by virtue of making it as far as the big leagues, all of those guys have passed the tipping point at which pure skill is no longer the only factor. They have intangibles that go along with skill and a hefty side dish of luck. Another way of putting it is the analysis provided by Tom Tango on The Book blog:

[E]ven though we have determined that clutch skill exists in that population of players, it is simply too hard to identify the specific players that it makes any practical difference.

Basically, any reasonable amount of plate appearances from which to glean any information is too small a sample size for clutch ability to normalize. Furthermore, the difference between a clutch hitter and not-clutch hitter is pretty much the same difference you’ll get from the platoon advantage with mirror-image doppelgangers. A ten-year career for a full time player is the bare minimum for getting a legit sample size.

One shorthand statistic has been developed, however, that is pretty useful. It’s called “Clutch,” and you can find it over on FanGraphs player pages. It is simply the difference between Win Probability Added and “WPA/LI,” or the ratio of Win Probability Added to Leverage Index. That’s a fancy way of saying that, through years of analysis, sabermetricians have assigned leverage values to different game situations and win probability adjustments to play results. No one denies the existence of clutch performances. I refer anyone who questions that to game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

So What?

Well, I wanted to glance through some of baseball’s “known” clutch and un-clutch hitters to gather their 2010 Clutch stats to see what kind of variation from the public perception we get in a random year. Let’s start with the most common comparison of clutch vs. un-clutch, Yankees infielders Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez:

A-Rod: 1.44, led team by 0.90 (6th positive year against 11 negatives; career -6.72 regular season +.90 postseason)

Jeter: -0.40, 3rd-lowest on team among regulars (10th negative against 6 positive; career +1.37 regular season, -1.14 postseason)

Interesting to see not only that A-Rod was clutchier in 2010, but also that the two men have comparable year-to-year variations, but quite different cumulative tallies. Basically, when Jeter is good, he’s truly clutch, while his Mr. November moniker might not be so well-deserved after all.

Now let’s jog over to Boston to compare the reputedly clutch immobile DH and the supposedly soft, fragile and choke-prone right fielder:

David Ortiz: -0.18 (7th negative year against 7 positives; +2.44 regular season, 0.96 playoffs)

J.D. Drew: -0.17 (9th negative year against 4 positives; -2.87 regular season, -0.03 playoffs)

Drew and Ortiz were equally ineffective in clutch situations, but the difference we need to recognize is that Ortiz had significantly more WPA and WPA/LI than Drew. Thus, his lack of “clutch” was counter-balanced by his greater propensity for finding himself in such situations and coming through quite often. Drew’s opportunities were far fewer and further between. Also, Drew joins both Yankees in having a more-or-less 2:1 negative-to-positive ratio of Clutch seasons. Further study would then, perhaps, be to look across the board at long-tenured veterans with enough PA to qualify as at least close to a valid sample, and to see if such a trend emerges beyond this group. That is, might we measure clutch best as a meta-narrative for a whole career? Hypothesis: while similar approach/contact can lead to varying results, over time those variances will balance out. Whether the sum total of single or multiple seasons in positive or negative, “clutchiness” might best be found within those who outperformed expectations over the course of individual seasons at a greater frequency than their peers.

Until next time…

Remember to tune into The Dann and Twan Show on Slam Internet Radio ( this Tuesday at 8pm CST. Yes, it’s a special holiday edition, complete with the Festivus traditions of grievance-airing and the feats of strength.

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Geovany Soto’s great 2010

Posted by dannmckeegan on September 10, 2010

Over at FanGraphs, Jack Moore just yesterday published an article describing the very, very goodness of Geo Soto’s 2010 after a poor 2009 showing. He claims that Soto could be even better had Lou handled him better. I commented over there last night, but I had a few more thoughts that are more reliant on the numbers comparing him to Mauer and Buster Posey.  Here goes: Read the rest of this entry »

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Mid-Season Review, Part Deux

Posted by dannmckeegan on July 2, 2010

Part Deux, as one might guess, implies that this entry will focus on the Cubs middle infield.  With the May promotion of Starlin Castro to the majors from Double A Tennessee, everyone else’s role changed.  Ryan Theriot moved from short to second.  Fontenot became a backup at second.  And Jeff Baker found himself on the bench, for the most part, pinch hitting until Aramis Ramirez went to the DL in June.  As a group, the best descriptor is probably “frustrating,” but each man merits that adjective for different reasons.  So without further ado, let’s begin.

Read the rest of this entry »

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800 Days Inside the Park with Peter Moylan

Posted by dannmckeegan on June 15, 2010

Peter MoylanWhat a disappointing day for Peter Moylan.  On March 30, 2008, Atlanta reliever Moylan surrendered an opening day walk-off home run to Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.  The only run he allowed until an arm injury sidelined him in mid-April, that home run was a starting line for an impressive streak that sadly just came to an end in a most ignominious fashion, one that reinforces my on-again, off-again ranting against the untruthful concept of the “three true outcomes.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Punctuated Home Run Equilibrium: Part III

Posted by dannmckeegan on May 27, 2010

From Coming Home Through Expansion: Waves #2 and #3

This is the third in a multi-part series examining the history of home run rates in Major League Baseball. Inspired by my disagreement with J.C. Bradbury’s opinion on the importance of steroids in the rise in home runs over the last 15 years, this research attempts to look beyond statistical expectations.  Rather than providing explanations for changes in home run rate, this series hopes to provide the reader with causal relationships not drawn from correlation, but rather from actual events.  Part One introduced Mr. Bradbury‘s argument, as well as my initial concerns with the position.  Part Two explores the Roaring Twenties and the decade’s end, where we see that a small piece of large puzzle can explain what appears to be widespread instability.

Following a plummeting rate of home runs per game (HR/G) during World War II, the return of the stars and the subsequent evolution of the American way of life led to what appears as a dramatic spike in power at the big league level.  Today’s entry examines what history has to say not from a purely numerical level, but also from a historical examination.

To be perfectly clear, I am not attempting to weave a narrative in retrospect.  Rather, my argument is that the peaks and troughs throughout history are largely evolutionary and incidental, byproducts of other socio-historical factors endemic to the game or experienced by the players.  The ups and downs that appear as data points are functionally independent of one another.  Extremes either high or low have historically tended to correct, if not overcorrect, themselves from year to year.  We will see this a number of times in today’s article. Read the rest of this entry »

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