Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Simple and Informative

Save percentage is a useful statistic for closers, but not for other types of relievers. It has minimal value when evaluating setup men. Relievers that protect leads in the seventh and eighth innings rarely close games. Therefore, they have few chances to earn saves, but can still get blown saves.

That explains how an outstanding setup man like Mike Adams could have a 50 percent save percentage (two saves in four save opportunities). The stat fails to demonstrate his ability to maintain leads, which he had shown by accumulating 24 holds this season.

Save plus hold percentage evens the playing for closers and setup men, showing how well all relievers maintain leads. It is simple to calculate, yet gets little attention in the mainstream sports media. A hold is a save situation that gets preserved and passed on to the next reliever. So a hold is basically a save that does not end a game.

To calculate save plus hold percentage, combine saves and holds and then divide by saves, holds and blown saves. Among relievers with at least 15 save and hold opportunities through August 16, these pitchers led the Major Leagues.

The top 10 includes four closers, five setup men and one pitcher (Antonio Bastardo) who has filled both roles.

Adams’ 92.9 save plus hold percentage left him just short of the top 10. But he easily surpassed the Major League average of 84.9 percent this season.

Since it’s easy to explain and informative, save plus hold percentage makes a great tool for agents in both arbitration and free agency.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Accelerators: Point Guards who Pick up the Pace

When Pooh Jeter took the court for the Sacramento Kings last season, his teammates had to be ready to run. Based on a metric comparing team pace with and without each NBA player on the court, Jeter increased the pace more than any other point guard.

The Kings had 4.1 more possessions per 48 minutes when Jeter played versus when he sat. Only three players at any position – who saw at least 750 minutes in 2010-11– surpassed him.

This stat is just one way to put words into numbers and tell a story. While a scouting report saying a player pushes the ball is strong evidence, it becomes even more powerful when hard statistical information backs it up.

Three starting one guards followed Jeter in this category: Jose Calderon, Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry. Jeff Teague, another backup point known for his quickness, placed fifth.

This metric may not always demonstrate speed. Calderon, for example, could excel at getting the Raptors a good shot early in their offensive sets. So while he’s not the type of guard who usually pushes the ball, Toronto still played faster with Calderon in the game.

This stat does get influenced by who shares the court with each point guard. Obviously, you can’t run if your teammates can’t keep up. It also matters who plays the same position for their team.

Nonetheless, NBA agents now have another tool to show how their free agents can impact clubs looking to up the tempo.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Other Side of Twitter

I’ve built a sports news gathering organization comparable to ESPN. There are 640 correspondents everywhere from Rio de Janeiro to Rochester, New York to Vilnius, Lithuania. Twenty-four hours per day, seven days a week, the news keep flowing directly to my phone. And it costs absolutely nothing.

Some view Twitter as a way of reaching out to others, which is absolutely true. But there’s another huge component that rarely gets mentioned: Twitter enables you to customize the news that comes to you. Whether I want to learn about a hot high school basketball prospect in New York City, track a minor leaguer in Williamsport, Pennsylvania or learn about emerging sports research or technology, I have a source.

Twitter has major advantages over more traditional ways of gathering information, even Google:

1) Getting the jump on real-time sports information. If there is a big trade brewing or other breaking news, you’ll see it on Twitter well before it hits the major sports websites. Why? Writers like Buster Olney or Ken Rosenthal will usually tweet before they post a story. It takes far less time to blast out 140 characters than an entire article that needs to pass through editors before reaching a webpage.

2) Everything comes to you. The mindset has always been to seek out topics which interest and have value to us. Since Twitter enables you to select followers and subjects that provide news you care about, there is no effort or energy required to find it. Whenever you want it, specialized information is there waiting for you.

3) Going beyond Google. For all its strengths, Google requires multiple steps to finding great sports info. You need to first find the right search terms. When you do, there’s no guarantee Google will have what you need. Even if it does, you may waste time sifting through meaningless links. With Twitter, the posts and links come to you. Your trusted followers do the legwork!

While negative tweets have come back to haunt athletes and other people in sports, it’s not very common. Besides, interacting isn’t necessary. It’s possible to build your news gathering organization without ever posting.

I’ve heard skeptics say “I barely have time to check email, why do I want to get on Twitter?” Unlike email, Twitter isn’t something you need to respond to. I’ll avoid reading Twitter for several days during baseball arbitration season. If somebody wants to contact you via Twitter, they’ll use one of its methods that directs correspondence to your inbox, just like an email.

For sports agents, the other side of Twitter can have tremendous value. And it will only get bigger and better.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Big Three for Pitchers

Limit walks, avoid home runs and strike batters out. If pitchers excel in those three areas over time, they will succeed. It is easier said than done.

All three areas are controlled primarily by the pitcher. He does not depend on his fielders for success in them, although home runs can get impacted by his home ballpark.

Sabermetric theory holds that pitchers have limited control over the batting average on balls put into play against them. On these plays, pitchers with a strong defense behind them have a huge edge over those that don’t. Pitchers who perform well in the big three can usually offset poor fielding. And when helped by a strong defense, they can dominate.

Our research shows that very few pitchers shine in all three of these vital areas. For both relievers and starters, we chose levels about 10 percent better than league averages. For relief pitchers, that was 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings and fewer than 3.0 walks and .75 home runs allowed per nine innings in at least 250 career innings pitched. Four active pitchers made the cut: Joakim Soria, Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Adams and Takashi Saito.

The criteria for starters proved even tougher: 500 innings pitched, 7.25 strikeouts per nine innings, and fewer than 2.5 walks and .8 home runs allowed per nine innings. Roy Oswalt stood alone at these levels. Two young starters – Daniel Hudson and Madison Bumgarner – join Oswalt if we drop the innings requirement to 250.

Incredibly, the groups expand by just one player apiece with non-active pitchers included. Reliever Tom Henke and starter Pedro Martinez join them.

Several elite pitchers miss these lists by falling just short in one category, such as Mariano Rivera, C.C. Sabathia and Felix Hernandez.

Prior to free agency and arbitration, we will update this research and vary the criteria to identify other pitchers who stand out in the big three. Why is this important for baseball agents? Because success in these areas makes pitchers more likely to sustain excellence when changing teams.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Beyond the Basics: Sports Analytics and Baseball Free Agency

Baseball free agency is an exciting time for players, agents and The Sports Resource. Analytics can highlight a player’s achievements, demonstrate and quantify his value, and show his contribution to the club. Unlike arbitration – a process restricted by specific criteria – free agency packages can also focus on what’s ahead with statistical projections.

Since free agency usually involves changing teams, this may add another level of complexity. But the insight gained from this research pays off both immediately and down the road, when it comes time for the next contract. Context impacts statistics far more than many realize, and joining a new club can dramatically change it.

These four key questions address areas where sports analytics can have a major impact beyond the basic components of a free agency package.

1. How will the level of competition affect your player? We elaborated on the AL East's impact on player statistics in the January 2010 issue of The Sports Resource Newsletter. Fortunately, methods exist to predict the impact of competition changes on individual players.

2. In which ballparks would he excel? Actual performance in different ballparks can be valuable. However, players may lack enough plate appearances to make those statistics meaningful.

Park factors give us an indication of how a player will perform when changing stadiums. Everybody knew that Adrian Gonzalez would benefit from leaving PETCO Park for Fenway Park. But it isn’t always that easy. Park factors vary from year to year largely due to weather patterns. Complicating matters further, many stadiums help certain types of hitters more than others. For example, Minute Maid Park is great for right-handed pull hitters with power, but not nearly as great for lefty home run hitters.

3. What impact will a new lineup have? Hitting in a strong batting order has a positive effect on context-dependent statistics like RBI and runs scored, as well as batting average to a lesser extent.

4. Are the potential new teams over or undervalued? Every player wants to win, so this last question is vital. Team records can prove misleading. So it’s better to examine Pythagorean won-lost records, which project winning percentage based on runs scored and allowed. For example, the Astros went 76-86 in 2010 and finished strong. That made them look like a team poised to turn the corner. However, their Pythagorean record was just 68-94. This makes their poor 2011 performance less surprising.