Monday, September 20, 2010

The Truth about Strikeouts

Managers hate when hitters strike out. The mainstream media often criticizes high-strikeout players like Mark Reynolds, much more than it should.

When it comes to winning and losing, strikeouts by hitters aren’t much more costly than other types of outs. While pitchers’ strikeouts have a major effect on run scoring, the same doesn’t hold true for hitters.

This insight comes from research using an advanced statistical technique called regression analysis. Without getting into the details, regression analysis determines how well statistics correlate with each other. Pitchers’ strikeouts have a much greater correlation with run prevention than hitters’ strikeouts have on run scoring.

How can this be? In general, hitters who strike out a lot also hit home runs and draw walks. On the other hand, strikeout pitchers limit offense better on average than pitchers who miss bats less often. They are also less dependent on their defense to make plays behind them.

Whether in arbitration or free agency, baseball agents can emphasize the value of high strikeout pitchers. And if you represent a high-strikeout batter, exhibits with this information provide hard evidence in his favor.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Opportunity and Statistics

Most sports statistics – especially the ones that get attention in the mainstream media – are opportunity based. Other metrics filter out opportunity, and they carry tremendous comparative value.

Many still fixate on per game numbers, and they don’t begin to tell the story for players like DeJuan Blair. His 7.8 points per game and 6.4 rebounds per game in 2009-10 look pedestrian. However, Blair posted these numbers in limited opportunities – playing just 18.2 minutes per contest.

Rebounds per 48 minutes is not impacted by how much players see action. Among NBA players with at least 750 minutes played, Blair ranked sixth in rebounds per 48 minutes (16.9). He topped all NBA players in offensive rebounds per 48 minutes (6.43), and remember that he was a 20-year-old rookie!

Even the offensive rebounds per 48 minutes statistic gets impacted by opportunity. Some teams play at a faster pace than others, and some miss more shots. Their players have more opportunities to grab offensive boards. The Spurs played at a slower pace than most teams and had the NBA’s sixth-highest shooting percentage. So these factors hurt Blair, yet he still out-rebounded everybody at the offensive end.

The best metric to show Blair’s rebounding excellence is rebound rate, John Hollinger’s measurement for the percentage of missed shots that a player rebounds when he’s on the court. Blair had a 16.0 offensive rebound rate last season. To put that in perspective, NBA teams grab 26-27 percent of available offensive boards on average. The Golden State Warriors had an offensive rebound rate of 20.9. Blair fell just 4.9 short of that figure, by himself.

While playing his final season at Pittsburgh, Blair put up unbelievable stats in this category. Despite playing in the rugged Big East, his 23.6 offensive rebound rate topped the nation’s next closest player by 5.0. Blair even surpassed the team figure for six Division I colleges.

So how did a player – who can out-rebound an entire team – last until the 37th pick of the 2009 NBA Draft? It’s hard to say. Blair’s 2008-09 rebounds per game figure (12.3) looked good but unspectacular, which may have been a factor. Of course, he played only 27.3 minutes per game on a very slow-paced team. Only adjusting his numbers for opportunity made Blair stand out.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Caution: Falling Offense

Remember 1992? That was the last time National League offense had gone lower than the current level of 4.36 runs per game. The same goes for the American League, which has seen an even sharper scoring drop-off since last season. AL teams averaged 4.82 runs per game in 2009. That figure had plunged to 4.45 through September 14. The NL had a more gradual decline from 4.43 runs per game last year to 4.36.

This presents a challenge for agents with arbitration-eligible and free agent position players this offseason. Clubs will no doubt pull out comparables from recent seasons when the run context was substantially higher.

Fortunately, there is a solution. Agents can adjust for the decreased offense in the same way economists do so for inflation. The Sports Resource has built a statistical model that adjusts for run context, which helps your position player clients when scoring drops.

You can even turn the scoring trend into a positive for hitters: some of this season’s individual achievements will stand out even more at contract time. For example, should Jose Bautista reach 50 home runs, he will match a feat last accomplished in 1990. Look for another post on this topic in the weeks ahead.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Who is Today’s Jose Cruz?

I drove past the Astrodome last week, seeing the old stadium for the first time. Now dwarfed by the adjacent Reliant Stadium, it brought back memories of 1-0 victories thrown by great Houston pitchers like Nolan Ryan and J.R. Richard.

Through most of its history, the Astrodome was an awful place to hit a baseball. Jose Cruz had the misfortune to play there in the 1970s and 80s. Had Cruz played in Fenway Park or Wrigley Field back then, he may be remembered as one of his era’s greatest hitters.

Cruz hit 59 career home runs in his home parks and 106 in road games. Although he started with Cardinals and ended up with the Yankees, Cruz had 83 percent of his career plate appearances for the Astros.

During his peak from 1976 to 1986 – when he played exclusively for the Astros – Cruz had a 128 OPS+ according to Since this metric adjusts for both the league average and a player’s ballpark, the Astrodome’s negative impact gets stripped away. Cruz ranked 24th in OPS+ among players with 2500 plate appearances from 1976-86, finishing in a group of more heralded players like Dale Murphy (129 OPS+), Cal Ripken Jr. (129), Kirk Gibson (128), and Dave Parker (128).

In that same timeframe, Cruz hit 100 homers and stole 250 bases. Only Andre Dawson, Rickey Henderson, and Davey Lopes joined him at those levels. Cruz reached base 2412 times, more than all but five other Major Leaguers from 1976-86.

While there are no stadiums like the Astrodome today, Safeco Field and PETCO Park have a comparable impact on offense. Although we now have tools that few knew about during Cruz’s playing days to adjust for run context, they still get limited attention.

Ballparks have a huge impact on statistics, yet many fail to take this into account in solving the value puzzle. Examining park effects is vital for not only showing a player’s true performance level, but where his career is headed.