An Un-Clutch Clutch Rebuttal

October 4, 2009

Industrial fasteners are made worldwide; the major producer for the USA except for the military is Taiwan. Nuts from small sizes ¼” to about 1” are made on cold header machines. These machines literally punch a hole through the wire (steel). The quality is very consistent. The variation from one respect maker to another does not affect functionality.

However the start of the wire is not as consistent as the drawn wire is after the beginning of the coil.Nor is the end of the coil. The machine takes some time to start up and produce 99.5 % quality nuts, the other .04% are rejected by the machine perhaps the balance get passed QC.

The humidity in the factory, the age of the oil, the age of the machine, the speed of the machine, the type of steel wire, the skill of the mechanics who set the machine up and the shape of the dies used all are factors that reflect upon the finished product. (Note the nuts next process is threading).
What is the point of this? Whitey Ford, Billy Pierce, Sandy Koufax. And Don Newcomb, Johnny Antonelli and Roger Clemens.
Humans are not developed to produce the same results on a consistent basis as are machines. Many of the same factors that affect machines affect ball players and emotions. Yes emotions play a key role in how anyone performs and no amount of charts or graphs can dissude me of that.
We all have known peers who may have done great in law school but never could pass the bar. Doctor stories where one doctor consistently performs better under certain conditions than other doctors. The type that handles the tough cases.
Co-workers who when the tough situation arises runs and hides and kids in soccer who run from kicking the ball at goal.
I understand that the current vogue is to dispute “clutch.” And while it may not prove out over an entire career any long time student of the game knows that certain players at certain times are more apt to produce in pressure situations.

Perhaps the effort to prove statically that “clutch” does not exist is simply the inability to prove that it does.


A Talent / Value Adjustment You’ve Never Thought About

September 28, 2009

(Exclusive to this web site!)

One of the great missing adjustments to even our most advanced stats is the adjustment for the quality of the opposition. A given stat line put up in the AL East means something rather different from the NL Central. Compounding the problem is that the adjustment needs to be iterative; once you have calculated the opposition quality for everyone and adjusted all the stats, you have to paste the adjusted stats over the originals, recalculate the opposition quality, and so on, again and again until the values stabilize. I do that with my adjusted standings at SoSH, but no one, AFAIK, has ever done that with individual hitting and pitching lines.

How exactly would you do this? You could just take opponent overall quality, which would in fact be your best adjustment for value. But an interesting and in some ways better alternative would be to include handedness. For instance, each LHB would get an adjustment based on the numbers versus LHB of the LHP pitchers he faced, and a separate adjustment for the RHP.

(As an aside, if you’re studying whether some hitters have persistent quality-of-opposition splits, you have to do it this way. AFAIK, no one ever has — the few studies showing no such persistence have used opponent ERA, which adds a huge amount of noise. Jon Lieber in his prime was a great pitcher vs. RHB and a lousy one vs. LHB; why count him as average vs. everyone?)

This notion of adjusting for opposition quality by handedness immediately suggests a value adjustment I’ve never heard mentioned. As a rule, elite LHB face a better quality of LHP than do average LHB. Not only are they more likely to not get benched against a C. C. Sabathia, they are hugely more likely to face a nasty LHR in the late innings. The differences among LHB are mitigated (slightly? more than that? I don’t think anyone knows) by this. The quality-of-opposition adjustment I just outlined would put the proper distance between the Alex Coras and Adrian Gonzalezes of the world. And this would be hugely desirable and interesting — when you’re assessing talent, that is.

Now, the funny thing is this: when assessing value, this can probably be safely overlooked. It’s built into the way the game is played now that this will happen. That we are underestimating how much better Gonzalez is than Cora is pretty much negated by the better pitching Gonzalez faces as a result.

However, there is probably a small but very interesting class of exceptions to this rule. You would expect there to be some hitters who get too much or not enough respect from opposing managers, and thus face more or fewer LHR than they ought to based on their own platoon splits. You would adjust for this by finding the correlative relationship between LHB platoon splits and the percentage of time they are at the platoon disadvantage, and then calculate the expected number and quality of LHR they faced versus the actual. The players with the biggest differences, in both directions, would make for very interesting lists. It’s possible that some of the “noise” in platoon splits is actual signal; as LHB establish reputation, managers begin to match them up with their lefty-killers. But reputations lag behind reality, both at the start and end of careers (David Ortiz may now be seeing tougher LHP than other LHB of his quality).

(As an aside, I know that Trot Nixon’s career path of splits vs. LHB was made completely nonsensical by the genius of Jimy Williams, who benched Nixon against even the easiest LH starters but never pinch hit for him against even the toughest LHR. So he was probably leading the league in toughest quality of LHP faced despite being nowhere near the top of the list for overall LHB quality. That’s the sort of guy it would be neat to identify and adjust.)

Strikeout Balance- What’s your preference?

September 23, 2009

Defensive Spectrum Be Damned

September 12, 2009

Over the last 10 years or so, the “advanced” statistics that became popular evaluated players against a position specific offensive baseline – VORP, for example. If a shortstop and a second baseman had the exact same batting line, the shortstop would rate higher by that kind of metric, due to the fact that second baseman hit better as a group than shortstops. As such, it’s become exceedingly common to see people write things like “he’s got enough offense to be valuable as a shortstop, but he doesn’t hit enough to play second or third”.

Positions are essentially just a way to arrange players in a manner that produces the most efficient defense possible. You can literally play anyone anywhere – there’s no rule preventing the Nationals from sticking Adam Dunn at shortstop, for instance. They realize, however, that they will field a better team by minimizing the amount of times that Dunn has to move laterally in order to make a play, so they hide him at first base.

From Cristian Guzman and Position Changes

I agree in heart with this post.  However, I believe it misses a couple of crucial points.  It does not take into account how a player can get used to his position, or how he can have a skill set that is more attuned to a position’s needs.  For instance, a third baseman needs less lateral range than a second baseman, who in turn needs less back and forth range than a shortstop,  and the defensive spectrum fails to recognize this.  UZR is not perfect, and no measure but FieldFX ever will be.  However, this is such an imperfect science, I don’t expect that we will ever be able to grasp all the nuances of defense.

A September To Forget, Or Why We Need A New Wildcard Format

September 7, 2009

It seems unfair that a divisional winner essentially has no advantage of a wild card winner. The wild card winner should be put at more of a disadvantage. If they add another wild card team and make the two duke it out in a three game series in three days at the home of the team with the best record and then force the winner to play the next day in the home of a divisional winner. Then, cut out some of the superfluous off days during the next two rounds and the whole thing won’t take any longer than it currently does.

via A September To Forget | FanGraphs Baseball.

You know what, I agree.  The wild-card as it is right now rewards coming in second place too much.  This would add real excitement, and truly make second place mean second place again.  Seeing a straight three-game set would also be fun, and give a real advantage to the fourth place team over the fifth place team.  This is a great suggestion!

Pedro Showing Off , Or Why Beating Up Bad Teams Doesn’t Matter

September 6, 2009

‘He did it facing a bad lineup’ is one of the weakest excuses of all time. Last time I checked, good pitchers pad their stats against weak teams. If a pitcher won 20 games, do you honestly think that every single one came against a team with a winning record and a top offence? Is Adam Wainwright a poor pitcher because his last four wins have come against four lesser offences? Yet previous to this four game winning streak, his last win was a shutout against the Dodgers. I could pick out a million examples of the above. It’s easy. Pedro has a proved hall of fame track record so him pitching shouldn’t come as a shock. Not to mention one of those ugly intangibles creeping into the picture…that being perhaps he is jacked up to be part of a team headed to the playoffs and is, like Floyd Mayweather Jr told us to do, stepping his game up.

via Pedro Showing Off | FanGraphs Baseball.

I can’t wait until people in the mainstream get this.  A player’s performance is not just what he does against the good teams or the bad teams. It’s the sum of what he does.  By nature, a good team will have a higher winner percentage against bad teams than good because they are bad.  As I am constantly having to tell people that because the Yankees pad their numbers against lesser teams does not prove how overrated they are.  It just proves that they are a good team. Consider that next time you are having your “when it counts”  fit.

Understanding Player Streakiness #1: The Epic Slump of Big Papi

August 26, 2009

Why do we believe that David Ortiz’s unimaginably bad April and May should nearly be ignored when projecting his performance for the rest of the year?  Why should we believe he has the skills of a .259 / .352 / .566 hitter (his numbers from June 6 to August 24) rather then those of  a .227 / .320 / .439 hitter (his overall season numbers)?   Isn’t this “cherry-picking” of the worst sort?  Why would you toss out a significant chunk of a season like that?

It’s not a trivial question: if Ortiz really is a 759 OPS hitter now, he should be getting no PT for the Red Sox, not when Casey Kotchman is sitting on the bench.  In fact, some on (from which much of this post is adapted) have been arguing just that: bench Papi, he’s toast.  But if he’s actually a 918 OPS hitter, that would be crazy.

The first thing to understand is that you could play Stratomatic Baseball or Diamond Mind from now until the day you die and not see a .439 slugger put up a .288 SA in his first 221 PA and a .566 SA in his next 264.  Ortiz’s HR / Contact has gone from .007 to .106; the odds against seeing that in a random simulation are something like 3,823 to 1 (chi-square, p < .0003).  [NB: Yes, I know that chi-square is not exactly accurate with any of the n < 5, but it’s close enough for sabermetrics.]

It’s important to understand that streakiness is real. Player seasons which divide like this and give ridiculous odds of happening randomly according to chi-square are commonplace.  That serial day-to-day correlation is not significant does not disprove the notion of streakiness; it just fails to give positive evidence.  Remember that a correlation does not measure the strength of a relationship; it measures the strength of a relationship minus the noise. Add sufficient noise, and any real relationship can fail to show a significant correlation.

The second thing that’s crucial is that we have a very good explanation for why Ortiz (or any hitter and especially any aging hitter) could have such a miserable stretch of season.  When looking at big splits, “do I understand how this happened?” is one of the two crucial interpretive questions you must ask yourself.  (The other—and sometime it’s the same question—is “did I look for this split to confirm an existing hypothesis or suspicion, or did I stumble on it while examining all of his splits?”)

The explanation (and here we shift from sabermetric mode to scouting mode, and it’s something that every sabermetrician needs to be able to do) begins with the psychological contrast between the “Big Papi” of legend and the Ortiz of April and May. From the ’04 post-season to the end of ’06 Ortiz may have been the most confident athlete you’ll ever have the pleasure to watch.  I’ve done studies which showed that his success in walk-off situations literally had millions-to-one (maybe billions-to-one) improbability. He not only knew he could hit, he knew they couldn’t get him out when it really counted.

This absolute confidence disappeared when he started suffering the health problems that come with ordinary aging. In ’07 and ’08 his clutch differential was actually negative, which was just being average plus bad luck.

Compare the guy who knew that no pitcher in the planet could get him out when the game was on the line to the guy who told the press “Papi sucks.” Ortiz suffered a complete collapse of confidence, complete self-doubt.

Now, the way this affects hitting is that it causes you to think about mechanics while you’re up there. That’s the last thing you want to do; it’s got to be what people call “muscle memory.” I suspect former Sox #1 prospect Lars Anderson has struggled this year in part because he’s so damn smart, and I suspect that the success of guys like Wade Boggs and Manny Ramirez is directly correlated to, shall we say, their unlikelihood of ever joining Mensa. I think it took Dwight Evans half his career to stop thinking too much while he was up there. (NB: I’m not talking about the “what’s he going to throw me next” thoughts between pitches, just whether the hitter can shut out conscious thoughts about swing mechanics.)

It’s important to note that there were a few weeks where we had persistent reports that Ortiz was having great BP but was still struggling in games. BP gives you a chance to work on mechanics and, having made an adjustment, get it out of your conscious mind, let it settle into muscle memory, and take a bunch of repetitions. Bringing that to games can be a big challenge. It’s the reason why slumps last as long as they do despite hitting coaches, video study, and extensive extra BP. It’s absolutely like the “don’t think about elephants” dilemma. It’s not just that you have to get past the stage where you’re actively thinking about mechanics, you have to get past the stage where you’re thinking that you shouldn’t think about your mechanics. That takes repetitions and confidence. You have to literally forget you’re slumping.  You can’t be trying really hard to relax.

To sum up:

Age and declining health – > increased likelihood of mechanics getting out of whack, at the purely physical level. Your knees hurt, you lessen the depth of your crouch, suddenly the swing is just a bit off.

Declining health -> loss of general confidence. You know you’re not physically the player you used to be.

Loss of confidence -> increased likelihood of thinking about swing mechanics while at the plate. Once the thought even crosses your mind that the swing might not be right, thinking about the swing while up there just makes things worse.

That’s how slumps start. And then the bad performance of the slump creates a further loss of self-confidence which leads to more thinking which leads to yet worse performance.

The reason why we can ascribe Ortiz’s epic slump to these psychological processes (writ much larger than usual) rather than to a fundamental loss of skills is obvious and trivial: his performance after the slump is over.  The numbers are arguably even more dramatic than the ones I noted at the beginning, because in the 11 games after the PED story broke, Ortiz hit .114 / .204 / .136 in 49 PA, and according to his own testimony he wasn’t sleeping at night.  Those 49 PA can actually be excluded by the same logic, leaving us with a “true maximum skill level” of something like .293 / .386 / .668, which is basically his season projections with a big power boost.

The reason why you don’t project him to hit like that the rest of the year is equally obvious and trivial: he is not immune to further slumps.  There is even a small probability that the next slump will be extended, like the first one, but that is mitigated by two factors: he is much more likely to fear that he has lost his skills when he’s slumping at the start of the season rather than in the middle, and the April and May slump was exacerbated by the pressure of not having hit his first home run of the year (from the date of his first homer on May 20 to the end of the slump on June 5, he showed real signs of life, with a huge increase in pulled line drive percentage.  This was precisely the period where he was reported to be having great BP.)

In terms of pure, peak, hitting skills, David Ortiz is probably 90% the hitter he used to be a few years ago.  He probably has something like a 500% higher probability of getting himself into a serious sustained slump, especially at the start of the season (April ’08 was also terrible).  The specter of these extended slumps diminishes his overall value, but they do not much affect our sense of what he’s likely to do in the short run.