Monday, May 31, 2010

A simple formula

Here's how to calculate perception of Derek Jeter's defensive value:
  1. Take a reasonably objective measurement of Jeter's defensive value.
  2. Negate it.
  3. Report this result as Jeter's true defensive value.
Seriously, how else to explain this article? Here's the summary on ESPN's front page:
It's been on New York's mind for a while now. Derek Jeter is getting older -- and his defense has seen better days. Is it finally time to talk position switch?
Here's a slice of the article itself:
The recent stories and rumblings have harped once again on Jeter's range. The sabermetricians are out there again, taunting Jeter with their numbers.

The statistics say Jeter is still going to his right fine, but in the early part of the season, he was having more trouble going to his left.

Remember the recent Sunday night Mets game, in which two balls to his left rolled under his glove? Those helped lower his plus-minus rating, according to Baseball Info Solutions (which looks at how often balls in play are turned into outs), to minus-7 on balls hit to the left of the typical shortstop's spot.

He's since improved that to minus-3, a slight drop from last season. Going left has been an issue for Jeter before -- one he's improved upon greatly after posting ratings of minus-25, minus-10 and minus-14 from 2005 to 2007. The early struggles this year again raised questions.
Note the common trick of taking a small sample, making it even smaller, and then casually noting that once you add the data you removed back in, things don't look as extreme as you want them to, though none if it should matter at all anyway given the sample size involved. And let's just brush away the whole oh-by-the-way-his-defense-has-been-improving-for-the-last-couple-years thing. Classic. Also, is going to his left all that matters? Who cares about one facet of his defense? It's the whole package that matters.

Anyways, according to the UZR numbers at Fangraphs, Derek Jeter's defense has not seen better days. This is thus far Jeter's second best season defensively on a rate basis. Last year was his best. So why is it that now that defensive metrics are actually showing Jeter to be a net positive on defense the media have decided the time has come to bring up his defense as a negative? After all the years of praising his defense when the number showed it was not great, it's now time to make an issue out of it? What gives?

The answer, of course, is that it is driving the Derek Jeter contract story. The Captain's contract is up at the end of this year and he's not getting any younger. This is a legitimate story and a big question and concern for the Yankees. Still, I would prefer if the real reason, risk associated with aging, were driving the story and not a generic-yet-somehow-still-sensationalist take on how a shortstop normally ages. Jeter is not normal. Let's not simply break out the boilerplate aging story because we're too lazy to tell the real one.

A simple formula to calculate perception of Derek Jeter

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Gardenhire gets it

So. Last night, Alex Rodriguez hit a come from behind grand slam in the seventh inning after the Twins walked Mark Teixeira to face him. Good for A-Rod. Of course, the press couldn't help but report that the man that Ron Gardenhire brought in to face Alex, Matt Guerrier, had surrendered three home runs to A-Rod in only six at bats.

Now, you and I know that that stat is nearly irrelevant. A-Rod has faced a ton of pitchers and has hit a ton of home runs. He's gonna have some stats against pitchers like that purely by chance. And naturally, we expect the press not to understand this point. But Twins' manager Ron Gardenhire? Usually I expect managers to also not understand this point, but here's what he said after the game:
"We're always aware of the numbers," Gardenhire said. "I know he has been good against Matty. Sometimes you can't do anything about the numbers. We're going to go with our best pitcher at the time."
The best part about this quote is that Gardenhire didn't say "we went with out best pitcher." He said, "We're going to go with our best pitcher." He wasn't rationalizing his decision ex post. He was describing how the Twins make decisions and will continue to make decisions ex ante. My respect for Ron Gardenhire has grown.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Back in the saddle

After an extended weekend of Yankee baseball, I feel like I finally have my baseball legs under me again. Some thoughts:
  • I'm really fine with Joba in the bullpen. This may surprise some. However, the Yanks did what I wanted them to do: they gave Joba a real chance to start and he just didn't seize the day. They've only got five starting pitcher slots and so it's time to give Phil Hughes a chance. I have no problem with that. But:
  • Let's not kid ourselves, this is emphatically not the same Joba that everyone remembers, despite all the assertions to the contrary from ESPN's crew this evening. A few years ago, Joba hit triple digits out of the pen. Tonight, he was 95-98. That's great, but it's not awesome. More importantly though, his slider is just not the same pitch. To my eye, his slider a couple years ago had a brutal, slashing, darting late action. It was hard, heavy, and just bored in on batters' feet. The pitch he was throwing tonight was nothing like that. It was a decent change of pace from his fastball: an 86-88 MPH pitch with good break, but much more arching than biting. With that stuff, Joba can be a good relief pitcher for many years, and maybe be a great one for a few, but he's not gonna be 2007 Joba with it.
  • Magglio Ordonez really bailed Jim Leyland out with his nice catch in the eighth. Leyland, in my opinion, really turned in a headscratching performance managing his pen. I thought extending Joel Zumaya into the eight was fine, but then I thought he was only doing it for one batter, since the next two guys were a lefty and switch hitter. Zumaya faces the righty, finishes with 25 pitches, and then Coke gets the next two. Then you can get Valverde to close it. Easy. Instead, Leyland had Zumaya go after the righty, lefty, and switch hitter. He got none of them out, and so Leyland ended up extending Zumaya too far, burning an extra pitcher on top of Zumaya, Coke, and Valverde, and got bad matchups to show for it. Bizarre. Why extend Zumaya so far without a reasonable backup plan?
  • Small sample size disease lives. ESPN is doing a nice job introducing viewers to some more saberesque concepts this year, but it's just amazing how much people continue to treat 100 plate appearances as meaningful. They just aren't. *sigh* That said, when Bill Simmons announces that he's aboard the sabermetric bandwagon, it makes you realize that we've come a long, long way.
  • I've given a lot of thought to my baseball fandom over the last few months. Work and other interests (video games, economics) have crowded out a lot of my baseball consumption. There's nothing wrong with that; I love my job (and video games and economics), but since I only write a baseball blog, it means that I just don't have a lot about which to blog. I've come to two realizations. First, I think all the analytical low-hanging fruit is gone in sabermetrics. There is a lot of awesome work being done out there in the sabermetric community, but it now takes ten times as long to fully understand all of it, not to mention actually doing it. I think this is a normal progression for most fields of scientific inquiry. Anyway, I just don't have that kind of time anymore, if I ever did (or maybe I'm just not as motivated to understand it). Because of this, I find myself just wanting to watch baseball, unencumbered by the feeling that I'm falling behind the curve. I'm not quite there yet; I really felt naked watching the game tonight, realizing that I didn't know any of the relevant analytical measures for the players involved or even just basic baseball news from the last few weeks. It was odd. I haven't been in that position in years. I haven't switched into a state where I can just check news and stats without being compelled to also read for a few hours about the latest research. I've lumped the two together for so long that when one goes, the other goes with it. But it didn't matter. Baseball is still awesome even when you don't know Austin Jackson's WAR or Jose Valverde's Fair ERA. I suppose I always knew this, but it's good to have it confirmed.
  • I should be going to a game Wednesday. I'm excited about that. I've got plans to see a game or two in Toronto and a game or two in Cleveland. I'm excited about that. Heck, there's an off chance I could get to New York or Chicago. That would be exciting. I'm just not that excited about baseball analysis right now, and I don't know why.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Ernie Harwell, 1918-2010

"Whatever happens, I'm ready to face it," Harwell told The Associated Press on Sept. 4, 2009. "I have a great faith in God and Jesus."
Rest in peace, Ernie. Not many people hold a cherished spot in the memories of thousands and thousands of total strangers, but for me and so many others, you will always be the voice of baseball.