Monday, November 12, 2018

Hypothetical Ballot: MVP

I tend to think I’m pretty objective when it comes to baseball analysis. Someone reading my blog or Twitter feed (RIP, mostly) with a critical eye might beg to differ: I like the Indians, players accused of using steroids, hate the Royals, and oh yeah I really love Mike Trout. The latter is certainly not unique to me -- how could you not like Mike Trout? -- but it is pronounced enough that my objectivity could be called into question when (for once) Mike Trout is engaged in a close race for AL MVP.

I think Mike Trout was most likely the most valuable player in baseball in 2018, and I firmly believe I would say that even if I was not a huge fan. While Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs’ WAR would disagree, Baseball Prospectus’ WARP agrees, so I’m not completely on an island.

The key consideration for me is that Trout was markedly superior offensively to Mookie Betts once you properly weight offensive events (read: more credit to Trout for his walks than metrics of the OPS family would allow) and adjust for the big difference in park factors between Angels Stadium and Fenway Park (97 and 105 PF respectively). I estimate that, adjusting for park, Trout created six more runs than Betts while making twenty fewer outs. That’s about a nine run difference. Then there is the position adjustment, which is worth another four.

Betts does cut into this lead with his defensive value: going in the order FRAA/UZR/DRS, Betts (11/15/20) has an average twelve runs higher than Trout (-2/4/8). I don’t credit the full difference, but even if I did, Trout would still have a one run edge. Give Betts a couple extra runs for baserunning (a debatable point)? I’m still going with the player with a clear advantage in offensive value. Regress the defense 50%? It’s close but the choice is much clearer.

The rest of my ballot is pretty self-explanatory if you look at my RAR estimates. I could justify just about any order of 6-9; I’m not at all convinced that JD Martinez was more valuable than Jose Ramirez, but chalk that one up to avoiding the indication of bias. Francisco Lindor rises based on excellent fielding metrics (6/14/14):

1. CF Mike Trout, LAA
2. RF Mookie Betts, BOS
3. SP Justin Verlander, HOU
4. 3B Alex Bregman, HOU
5. SP Chris Sale, BOS
6. DH JD Martinez, BOS
7. SP Blake Snell, TB
8. SS Francisco Lindor, CLE
9. 3B Jose Ramirez, CLE
10. SP Corey Kluber, CLE

The NL MVP race is weird. Christian Yelich had an eighteen RAR lead over the next closest position player (Javier Baez), which is typically an indication of a historically great season. Triple crown bid aside, Yelich did not have a historically great season, “merely” a typical MVP-type season. In the AL, he would have been well behind Trout and Betts with Bregman and Martinez right on his heels.

Thus the only meaningful comparison for the top of the ballot is the top hitter (Yelich) against the top pitcher (Jacob deGrom). When it comes to an MVP race between a hitter and a pitcher, I usually try to give the former the benefit of the doubt. Specifically, while there is one primary way in which I evaluate the offensive contribution of a hitter (runs created based on their statistics, converted to RAR), there are three obvious ways using the traditional stat line to calculate RAR for a pitcher. The first is based on actual runs allowed; the second on peripheral statistics (this one is most similar to the comparable calculation for batters); the third based on DIPS principle. In order for me to support a pitcher for MVP, ideally he would be more valuable using each of these perspectives on evaluating performance. deGrom achieved this, with his lowest RAR total (72 based on DIPS principles) exceeding Yelich’s 69 RAR (and with Yelich’s -5/-2/4 fielding metrics, 69 is as good as it gets).

Given the huge gap between Yelich and Baez, starting pitchers dominate the top of my ballot. The movers upward when considering fielding are a pair of first basemen (Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt) and Nolan Arenado, while Bryce Harper’s fielding metrics were dreadful (-12/-14/-26) and drop him all the way off the ballot:

1. SP Jacob deGrom, NYN
2. LF Christian Yelich, MIL
3. SP Max Scherzer, WAS
4. SP Aaron Nola, PHI
5. SP Kyle Freeland, COL
6. SP Patrick Corbin, ARI
7. SS Javier Baez, CHN
8. 1B Freddie Freeman, ATL
9. 1B Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
10. 3B Nolan Arenado, COL

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Hypothetical Ballot: Cy Young

The AL Cy Young race is extremely close due to the two candidates who appeared to be battling it out for the award much of the season missing significant time in the second half. Despite their injuries, Chris Sale and Trevor Bauer had logged enough innings preventing enough runs on a rate basis to still be legitimate contenders in the end. Justin Verlander and Blake Snell each tied with 74 RAR based on actual runs allowed adjusted for bullpen support, an eight run lead over Sale in third. But when you look at metrics based on eRA (based on “components”) and dRA (based on DIPS concepts), Sale, Bauer, Corey Kluber, and Gerrit Cole all cut into that gap.

In fact, using a crude weighting of 50% RA-based, 25% eRA-based, and 25% dRA-based RAR, there are six pitchers separated by seven RAR. A seventh, Mike Clevinger, had 65 standard RAR but worse peripherals to drop four runs behind the bottom of that pack.

There are any number of reasonable ways to fill out one’s ballot, but I think the best choice for across-the-board excellence is Verlander. He pitched just one fewer inning than league leader Kluber, tied for the league lead in standard RAR, was second one run behind Kluber in eRA-based RAR, and was third by five runs to Sale in dRA-based RAR. Chris Sale sneaks into second for me as he led across the board in RA; even pitching just 158 innings, seventeen fewer than even Bauer, his excellence allowed him to accrue a great deal of value. Snell and the Indians round out my ballot; I’ve provided the statistics I considered below as evidence of how close this is:

1. Justin Verlander, HOU
2. Chris Sale, BOS
3. Blake Snell, TB
4. Corey Kluber, CLE
5. Trevor Bauer, CLE

The NL race is not nearly as close, as Jacob deGrom was second in innings (by just three to Max Scherzer) and led in all of the RA categories, plus Quality Start % and probably a whole bunch of equally suspect measures of performance.

Behind him I see no particular reason to deviate from the order suggested by RAR; Scherzer over Aaron Nola is an easy choice due to the former’s superior peripherals, and while Patrick Corbin had superior peripherals to Kyle Freeland, the latter’s 13 RAR lead is a lot to ignore, although Corbin should be recognized for having an eRA and dRA quite similar to Max Scherzer and otherwise lapping the rest of the field. With the exception of course of Jacob deGrom, the author a season that is worthy of considerable discussion in the next installment of “meaningless hypothetical award ballots”:

1. Jacob deGrom, NYN
2. Max Scherzer, WAS
3. Aaron Nola, PHI
4. Kyle Freeland, COL
5. Patrick Corbin, ARI

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Hypothetical Ballot: Rookie of the Year

I would expect to see some fairly wide variations in Rookie of the Year rankings even among sabermetric-minded people this season, especially in the American League where nuances in player value methodology can result in significant differences in how ones ranks the candidates.

I think that Shohei Ohtani was the most valuable AL rookie, by a decent margin. Offensively, I have him at 28 RAR; you may want to cut a few runs off of that if you think there should be a more punitive DH penalty. That ranks behind Miguel Andujar (36) and Joey Wendle (31), and even with Gleybar Torres (27). However, Andujar’s fielding marks are truly dreadful (-11 BP FRAA is the most generous evaluation; UZR at -16 and DRS at -25 are even more down on his performance). Wendle consistently gets around 5 RAA, and evaluations of Torres are varied (7, -8, -1).

Ohtani also contributed as a pitcher. While he only pitched 52 innings, his 3.41 park-adjusted RA over that work is good for 14 RAR. I see no reason why he shouldn’t be viewed separately against replacement level for his offensive and pitching work; this isn’t the same situation as evaluating a batter against separate replacement levels for offense and fielding. Ohtani’s role can be bifurcated by his manager; if he was not contributing value offensively, he would lose his opportunities in that space while still being permitted to take the mound. A player’s performance as a batter and a fielder cannot be similarly divided, except if the DH role is available. If anything, Ohtani should get a bonus for only taking up one roster spot (can we use that to offset any docking for the DH positional adjustment and call it even?)

Ohtani at 42 RAR outshines Wendle, even with full credit for fielding, as well as the top pitching candidate, Brad Keller (36 RAR with a good eRA but only 28 RAR if evaluated on a DIPS basis). The other top pitching candidate by standard RAR, Jamie Barria (33), had worse peripherals and a very poor dRA (5.24). Regressing the fielding stats a little, I give Andujar the nod over Torres with offense as tiebreaker, but they should be the bottom of the ballot, not the top:

1. DH/SP Shohei Ohtani, LAA
2. 3B Joey Wendle, TB
3. SP Brad Keller, KC
4. 3B Miguel Andujar, NYA
5. 2B Gleyber Torres, NYA

In the NL, the old pull to bestow RoY upon the transcendent prospect rather than the most valuable rookie comes into play a little bit. With two young hitters the caliber of Ronald Acuna and Juan Soto to choose from, it is very tempting to put them on top. I think Walker Buehler deserves better. At 43 RAR, Buehler is ahead of Acuna and Soto (38) before taking fielding into account, and neither Acuna (-2 to -9) or Soto (3 to -5) shine in those metrics.

I think the three can be placed in any ballot order quite reasonably; while most people (including me) would take Acuna’s future, Soto and Acuna were nearly even this season, with essentially the same park-adjusted batting averages supplemented by Soto’s amazing walk rate and Acuna’s superior power. Give Soto some credit as a fielder and Acuna some as a baserunner and it’s still very close. Buehler was not as strong in RAR if using a DIPS approach (30), which drops him back to their level. Acuna may be the better prospect, but Soto’s younger, and while I don’t like to give extra credit for performance by time in the season, Buehler came up huge in a regular season game that would conclusively decide a division title. Somewhat arbitrarily, I have it:

1. LF Juan Soto, WAS
2. SP Walker Buehler, LA
3. LF Ronald Acuna, ATL
4. SP Jack Flaherty, STL
5. RF Brian Anderson, MIA

Friday, October 05, 2018

End of Season Statistics, 2018

The spreadsheets are published as Google Spreadsheets, which you can download in Excel format by changing the extension in the address from "=html" to "=xlsx", or in open format as "=ods". That way you can download them and manipulate things however you see fit.

The data comes from a number of different sources. Most of the data comes from Baseball-Reference. KJOK's park database is extremely helpful in determining when park factors should reset. Data on bequeathed runners comes from Baseball Prospectus.

The basic philosophy behind these stats is to use the simplest methods that have acceptable accuracy. Of course, "acceptable" is in the eye of the beholder, namely me. I use Pythagenpat not because other run/win converters, like a constant RPW or a fixed exponent are not accurate enough for this purpose, but because it's mine and it would be kind of odd if I didn't use it.

If I seem to be a stickler for purity in my critiques of others' methods, I'd contend it is usually in a theoretical sense, not an input sense. So when I exclude hit batters, I'm not saying that hit batters are worthless or that they *should* be ignored; it's just easier not to mess with them and not that much less accurate (note: hit batters are actually included in the offensive statistics now).

I also don't really have a problem with people using sub-standard methods (say, Basic RC) as long as they acknowledge that they are sub-standard. If someone pretends that Basic RC doesn't undervalue walks or cause problems when applied to extreme individuals, I'll call them on it; if they explain its shortcomings but use it regardless, I accept that. Take these last three paragraphs as my acknowledgment that some of the statistics displayed here have shortcomings as well, and I've at least attempted to describe some of them in the discussion below.

The League spreadsheet is pretty straightforward--it includes league totals and averages for a number of categories, most or all of which are explained at appropriate junctures throughout this piece. The advent of interleague play has created two different sets of league totals--one for the offense of league teams and one for the defense of league teams. Before interleague play, these two were identical. I do not present both sets of totals (you can figure the defensive ones yourself from the team spreadsheet, if you desire), just those for the offenses. The exception is for the defense-specific statistics, like innings pitched and quality starts. The figures for those categories in the league report are for the defenses of the league's teams. However, I do include each league's breakdown of basic pitching stats between starters and relievers (denoted by "s" or "r" prefixes), and so summing those will yield the totals from the pitching side. The one abbreviation you might not recognize is "N"--this is the league average of runs/game for one team, and it will pop up again.

The Team spreadsheet focuses on overall team performance--wins, losses, runs scored, runs allowed. The columns included are: Park Factor (PF), Home Run Park Factor (PFhr), Winning Percentage (W%), Expected W% (EW%), Predicted W% (PW%), wins, losses, runs, runs allowed, Runs Created (RC), Runs Created Allowed (RCA), Home Winning Percentage (HW%), Road Winning Percentage (RW%) [exactly what they sound like--W% at home and on the road], Runs/Game (R/G), Runs Allowed/Game (RA/G), Runs Created/Game (RCG), Runs Created Allowed/Game (RCAG), and Runs Per Game (the average number of runs scored an allowed per game). Ideally, I would use outs as the denominator, but for teams, outs and games are so closely related that I don’t think it’s worth the extra effort.

The runs and Runs Created figures are unadjusted, but the per-game averages are park-adjusted, except for RPG which is also raw. Runs Created and Runs Created Allowed are both based on a simple Base Runs formula. The formula is:

A = H + W - HR - CS
B = (2TB - H - 4HR + .05W + 1.5SB)*.76
C = AB - H
D = HR
Naturally, A*B/(B + C) + D.

I have explained the methodology used to figure the PFs before, but the cliff’s notes version is that they are based on five years of data when applicable, include both runs scored and allowed, and they are regressed towards average (PF = 1), with the amount of regression varying based on the number of years of data used. There are factors for both runs and home runs. The initial PF (not shown) is:

iPF = (H*T/(R*(T - 1) + H) + 1)/2
where H = RPG in home games, R = RPG in road games, T = # teams in league (14 for AL and 16 for NL). Then the iPF is converted to the PF by taking x*iPF + (1-x), where x = .6 if one year of data is used, .7 for 2, .8 for 3, and .9 for 4+.

It is important to note, since there always seems to be confusion about this, that these park factors already incorporate the fact that the average player plays 50% on the road and 50% at home. That is what the adding one and dividing by 2 in the iPF is all about. So if I list Fenway Park with a 1.02 PF, that means that it actually increases RPG by 4%.

In the calculation of the PFs, I did not take out “home” games that were actually at neutral sites (of which there were a rash this year).

There are also Team Offense and Defense spreadsheets. These include the following categories:

Team offense: Plate Appearances, Batting Average (BA), On Base Average (OBA), Slugging Average (SLG), Secondary Average (SEC), Walks and Hit Batters per At Bat (WAB), Isolated Power (SLG - BA), R/G at home (hR/G), and R/G on the road (rR/G) BA, OBA, SLG, WAB, and ISO are park-adjusted by dividing by the square root of park factor (or the equivalent; WAB = (OBA - BA)/(1 - OBA), ISO = SLG - BA, and SEC = WAB + ISO).

Team defense: Innings Pitched, BA, OBA, SLG, Innings per Start (IP/S), Starter's eRA (seRA), Reliever's eRA (reRA), Quality Start Percentage (QS%), RA/G at home (hRA/G), RA/G on the road (rRA/G), Battery Mishap Rate (BMR), Modified Fielding Average (mFA), and Defensive Efficiency Record (DER). BA, OBA, and SLG are park-adjusted by dividing by the square root of PF; seRA and reRA are divided by PF.

The three fielding metrics I've included are limited it only to metrics that a) I can calculate myself and b) are based on the basic available data, not specialized PBP data. The three metrics are explained in this post, but here are quick descriptions of each:

1) BMR--wild pitches and passed balls per 100 baserunners = (WP + PB)/(H + W - HR)*100

2) mFA--fielding average removing strikeouts and assists = (PO - K)/(PO - K + E)

3) DER--the Bill James classic, using only the PA-based estimate of plays made. Based on a suggestion by Terpsfan101, I've tweaked the error coefficient. Plays Made = PA - K - H - W - HR - HB - .64E and DER = PM/(PM + H - HR + .64E)

Next are the individual player reports. I defined a starting pitcher as one with 15 or more starts. All other pitchers are eligible to be included as a reliever. If a pitcher has 40 appearances, then they are included. Additionally, if a pitcher has 50 innings and less than 50% of his appearances are starts, he is also included as a reliever (this allows some swingmen type pitchers who wouldn’t meet either the minimum start or appearance standards to get in). This would be a good point to note that I didn't do much to adjust for the opener--I made the decision to classify Ryan Yarbrough as a starter and Ryne Stanek as a reliever, but maybe next year I can implement some good ideas into the RAA/RAR methodology.

For all of the player reports, ages are based on simply subtracting their year of birth from 2017. I realize that this is not compatible with how ages are usually listed and so “Age 27” doesn’t necessarily correspond to age 27 as I list it, but it makes everything a heckuva lot easier, and I am more interested in comparing the ages of the players to their contemporaries than fitting them into historical studies, and for the former application it makes very little difference. The "R" category records rookie status with a "R" for rookies and a blank for everyone else; I've trusted Baseball Prospectus on this. Also, all players are counted as being on the team with whom they played/pitched (IP or PA as appropriate) the most.

For relievers, the categories listed are: Games, Innings Pitched, estimated Plate Appearances (PA), Run Average (RA), Relief Run Average (RRA), Earned Run Average (ERA), Estimated Run Average (eRA), DIPS Run Average (dRA), Strikeouts per Game (KG), Walks per Game (WG), Guess-Future (G-F), Inherited Runners per Game (IR/G), Batting Average on Balls in Play (%H), Runs Above Average (RAA), and Runs Above Replacement (RAR).

IR/G is per relief appearance (G - GS); it is an interesting thing to look at, I think, in lieu of actual leverage data. You can see which closers come in with runners on base, and which are used nearly exclusively to start innings. Of course, you can’t infer too much; there are bad relievers who come in with a lot of people on base, not because they are being used in high leverage situations, but because they are long men being used in low-leverage situations already out of hand.

For starting pitchers, the columns are: Wins, Losses, Innings Pitched, Estimated Plate Appearances (PA), RA, RRA, ERA, eRA, dRA, KG, WG, G-F, %H, Pitches/Start (P/S), Quality Start Percentage (QS%), RAA, and RAR. RA and ERA you know--R*9/IP or ER*9/IP, park-adjusted by dividing by PF. The formulas for eRA and dRA are based on the same Base Runs equation and they estimate RA, not ERA.

* eRA is based on the actual results allowed by the pitcher (hits, doubles, home runs, walks, strikeouts, etc.). It is park-adjusted by dividing by PF.

* dRA is the classic DIPS-style RA, assuming that the pitcher allows a league average %H, and that his hits in play have a league-average S/D/T split. It is park-adjusted by dividing by PF.

The formula for eRA is:

A = H + W - HR
B = (2*TB - H - 4*HR + .05*W)*.78
C = AB - H = K + (3*IP - K)*x (where x is figured as described below for PA estimation and is typically around .93) = PA (from below) - H - W
eRA = (A*B/(B + C) + HR)*9/IP

To figure dRA, you first need the estimate of PA described below. Then you calculate W, K, and HR per PA (call these %W, %K, and %HR). Percentage of balls in play (BIP%) = 1 - %W - %K - %HR. This is used to calculate the DIPS-friendly estimate of %H (H per PA) as e%H = Lg%H*BIP%.

Now everything has a common denominator of PA, so we can plug into Base Runs:

A = e%H + %W
B = (2*(z*e%H + 4*%HR) - e%H - 5*%HR + .05*%W)*.78
C = 1 - e%H - %W - %HR
cRA = (A*B/(B + C) + %HR)/C*a

z is the league average of total bases per non-HR hit (TB - 4*HR)/(H - HR), and a is the league average of (AB - H) per game.

In the past I presented a couple of batted ball RA estimates. I’ve removed these, not just because batted ball data exhibits questionable reliability but because these metrics were complicated to figure, required me to collate the batted ball data, and were not personally useful to me. I figure these stats for my own enjoyment and have in some form or another going back to 1997. I share them here only because I would do it anyway, so if I’m not interested in certain categories, there’s no reason to keep presenting them.

Instead, I’m showing strikeout and walk rate, both expressed as per game. By game I mean not nine innings but rather the league average of PA/G. I have always been a proponent of using PA and not IP as the denominator for non-run pitching rates, and now the use of per PA rates is widespread. Usually these are expressed as K/PA and W/PA, or equivalently, percentage of PA with a strikeout or walk. I don’t believe that any site publishes these as K and W per equivalent game as I am here. This is not better than K%--it’s simply applying a scalar multiplier. I like it because it generally follows the same scale as the familiar K/9.

To facilitate this, I’ve finally corrected a flaw in the formula I use to estimate plate appearances for pitchers. Previously, I’ve done it the lazy way by not splitting strikeouts out from other outs. I am now using this formula to estimate PA (where PA = AB + W):

PA = K + (3*IP - K)*x + H + W
Where x = league average of (AB - H - K)/(3*IP - K)

Then KG = K*Lg(PA/G) and WG = W*Lg(PA/G).

G-F is a junk stat, included here out of habit because I've been including it for years. It was intended to give a quick read of a pitcher's expected performance in the next season, based on eRA and strikeout rate. Although the numbers vaguely resemble RAs, it's actually unitless. As a rule of thumb, anything under four is pretty good for a starter. G-F = 4.46 + .095(eRA) - .113(K*9/IP). It is a junk stat. JUNK STAT JUNK STAT JUNK STAT. Got it?

%H is BABIP, more or less--%H = (H - HR)/(PA - HR - K - W), where PA was estimated above. Pitches/Start includes all appearances, so I've counted relief appearances as one-half of a start (P/S = Pitches/(.5*G + .5*GS). QS% is just QS/(G - GS); I don't think it's particularly useful, but Doug's Stats include QS so I include it.

I've used a stat called Relief Run Average (RRA) in the past, based on Sky Andrecheck's article in the August 1999 By the Numbers; that one only used inherited runners, but I've revised it to include bequeathed runners as well, making it equally applicable to starters and relievers. I use RRA as the building block for baselined value estimates for all pitchers. I explained RRA in this article, but the bottom line formulas are:

BRSV = BRS - BR*i*sqrt(PF)
IRSV = IR*i*sqrt(PF) - IRS
RRA = ((R - (BRSV + IRSV))*9/IP)/PF

The two baselined stats are Runs Above Average (RAA) and Runs Above Replacement (RAR). Starting in 2015 I revised RAA to use a slightly different baseline for starters and relievers as described here. The adjustment is based on patterns from the last several seasons of league average starter and reliever eRA. Thus it does not adjust for any advantages relief pitchers enjoy that are not reflected in their component statistics. This could include runs allowed scoring rules that benefit relievers (although the use of RRA should help even the scales in this regard, at least compared to raw RA) and the talent advantage of starting pitchers. The RAR baselines do attempt to take the latter into account, and so the difference in starter and reliever RAR will be more stark than the difference in RAA.

RAA (relievers) = (.951*LgRA - RRA)*IP/9
RAA (starters) = (1.025*LgRA - RRA)*IP/9
RAR (relievers) = (1.11*LgRA - RRA)*IP/9
RAR (starters) = (1.28*LgRA - RRA)*IP/9

All players with 250 or more plate appearances (official, total plate appearances) are included in the Hitters spreadsheets (along with some players close to the cutoff point who I was interested in). Each is assigned one position, the one at which they appeared in the most games. The statistics presented are: Games played (G), Plate Appearances (PA), Outs (O), Batting Average (BA), On Base Average (OBA), Slugging Average (SLG), Secondary Average (SEC), Runs Created (RC), Runs Created per Game (RG), Speed Score (SS), Hitting Runs Above Average (HRAA), Runs Above Average (RAA), Hitting Runs Above Replacement (HRAR), and Runs Above Replacement (RAR).

Starting in 2015, I'm including hit batters in all related categories for hitters, so PA is now equal to AB + W+ HB. Outs are AB - H + CS. BA and SLG you know, but remember that without SF, OBA is just (H + W + HB)/(AB + W + HB). Secondary Average = (TB - H + W + HB)/AB = SLG - BA + (OBA - BA)/(1 - OBA). I have not included net steals as many people (and Bill James himself) do, but I have included HB which some do not.

BA, OBA, and SLG are park-adjusted by dividing by the square root of PF. This is an approximation, of course, but I'm satisfied that it works well (I plan to post a couple articles on this some time during the offseason). The goal here is to adjust for the win value of offensive events, not to quantify the exact park effect on the given rate. I use the BA/OBA/SLG-based formula to figure SEC, so it is park-adjusted as well.

Runs Created is actually Paul Johnson's ERP, more or less. Ideally, I would use a custom linear weights formula for the given league, but ERP is just so darn simple and close to the mark that it’s hard to pass up. I still use the term “RC” partially as a homage to Bill James (seriously, I really like and respect him even if I’ve said negative things about RC and Win Shares), and also because it is just a good term. I like the thought put in your head when you hear “creating” a run better than “producing”, “manufacturing”, “generating”, etc. to say nothing of names like “equivalent” or “extrapolated” runs. None of that is said to put down the creators of those methods--there just aren’t a lot of good, unique names available.

For 2015, I refined the formula a little bit to:

1. include hit batters at a value equal to that of a walk
2. value intentional walks at just half the value of a regular walk
3. recalibrate the multiplier based on the last ten major league seasons (2005-2014)

This revised RC = (TB + .8H + W + HB - .5IW + .7SB - CS - .3AB)*.310

RC is park adjusted by dividing by PF, making all of the value stats that follow park adjusted as well. RG, the Runs Created per Game rate, is RC/O*25.5. I do not believe that outs are the proper denominator for an individual rate stat, but I also do not believe that the distortions caused are that bad. (I still intend to finish my rate stat series and discuss all of the options in excruciating detail, but alas you’ll have to take my word for it now).

Several years ago I switched from using my own "Speed Unit" to a version of Bill James' Speed Score; of course, Speed Unit was inspired by Speed Score. I only use four of James' categories in figuring Speed Score. I actually like the construct of Speed Unit better as it was based on z-scores in the various categories (and amazingly a couple other sabermetricians did as well), but trying to keep the estimates of standard deviation for each of the categories appropriate was more trouble than it was worth.

Speed Score is the average of four components, which I'll call a, b, c, and d:

a = ((SB + 3)/(SB + CS + 7) - .4)*20
b = sqrt((SB + CS)/(S + W))*14.3
c = ((R - HR)/(H + W - HR) - .1)*25
d = T/(AB - HR - K)*450

James actually uses a sliding scale for the triples component, but it strikes me as needlessly complex and so I've streamlined it. He looks at two years of data, which makes sense for a gauge that is attempting to capture talent and not performance, but using multiple years of data would be contradictory to the guiding principles behind this set of reports (namely, simplicity. Or laziness. You're pick.) I also changed some of his division to mathematically equivalent multiplications.

There are a whopping four categories that compare to a baseline; two for average, two for replacement. Hitting RAA compares to a league average hitter; it is in the vein of Pete Palmer’s Batting Runs. RAA compares to an average hitter at the player’s primary position. Hitting RAR compares to a “replacement level” hitter; RAR compares to a replacement level hitter at the player’s primary position. The formulas are:

HRAA = (RG - N)*O/25.5
RAA = (RG - N*PADJ)*O/25.5
HRAR = (RG - .73*N)*O/25.5
RAR = (RG - .73*N*PADJ)*O/25.5

PADJ is the position adjustment, and it is based on 2002-2011 offensive data. For catchers it is .89; for 1B/DH, 1.17; for 2B, .97; for 3B, 1.03; for SS, .93; for LF/RF, 1.13; and for CF, 1.02. I had been using the 1992-2001 data as a basis for some time, but finally updated for 2012. I’m a little hesitant about this update, as the middle infield positions are the biggest movers (higher positional adjustments, meaning less positional credit). I have no qualms for second base, but the shortstop PADJ is out of line with the other position adjustments widely in use and feels a bit high to me. But there are some decent points to be made in favor of offensive adjustments, and I’ll have a bit more on this topic in general below.

That was the mechanics of the calculations; now I'll twist myself into knots trying to justify them. If you only care about the how and not the why, stop reading now.

The first thing that should be covered is the philosophical position behind the statistics posted here. They fall on the continuum of ability and value in what I have called "performance". Performance is a technical-sounding way of saying "Whatever arbitrary combination of ability and value I prefer".

With respect to park adjustments, I am not interested in how any particular player is affected, so there is no separate adjustment for lefties and righties for instance. The park factor is an attempt to determine how the park affects run scoring rates, and thus the win value of runs.

I apply the park factor directly to the player's statistics, but it could also be applied to the league context. The advantage to doing it my way is that it allows you to compare the component statistics (like Runs Created or OBA) on a park-adjusted basis. The drawback is that it creates a new theoretical universe, one in which all parks are equal, rather than leaving the player grounded in the actual context in which he played and evaluating how that context (and not the player's statistics) was altered by the park.

The good news is that the two approaches are essentially equivalent; in fact, they are precisely equivalent if you assume that the Runs Per Win factor is equal to the RPG. Suppose that we have a player in an extreme park (PF = 1.15, approximately like Coors Field pre-humidor) who has an 8 RG before adjusting for park, while making 350 outs in a 4.5 N league. The first method of park adjustment, the one I use, converts his value into a neutral park, so his RG is now 8/1.15 = 6.957. We can now compare him directly to the league average:

RAA = (6.957 - 4.5)*350/25.5 = +33.72

The second method would be to adjust the league context. If N = 4.5, then the average player in this park will create 4.5*1.15 = 5.175 runs. Now, to figure RAA, we can use the unadjusted RG of 8:

RAA = (8 - 5.175)*350/25.5 = +38.77

These are not the same, as you can obviously see. The reason for this is that they take place in two different contexts. The first figure is in a 9 RPG (2*4.5) context; the second figure is in a 10.35 RPG (2*4.5*1.15) context. Runs have different values in different contexts; that is why we have RPW converters in the first place. If we convert to WAA (using RPW = RPG, which is only an approximation, so it's usually not as tidy as it appears below), then we have:

WAA = 33.72/9 = +3.75
WAA = 38.77/10.35 = +3.75

Once you convert to wins, the two approaches are equivalent. The other nice thing about the first approach is that once you park-adjust, everyone in the league is in the same context, and you can dispense with the need for converting to wins at all. You still might want to convert to wins, and you'll need to do so if you are comparing the 2015 players to players from other league-seasons (including between the AL and NL in the same year), but if you are only looking to compare Christian Yelich to Matt Carpenter, it's not necessary. WAR is somewhat ubiquitous now, but personally I prefer runs when possible--why mess with decimal points if you don't have to?

The park factors used to adjust player stats here are run-based. Thus, they make no effort to project what a player "would have done" in a neutral park, or account for the difference effects parks have on specific events (walks, home runs, BA) or types of players. They simply account for the difference in run environment that is caused by the park (as best I can measure it). As such, they don't evaluate a player within the actual run context of his team's games; they attempt to restate the player's performance as an equivalent performance in a neutral park.

I suppose I should also justify the use of sqrt(PF) for adjusting component statistics. The classic defense given for this approach relies on basic Runs Created--runs are proportional to OBA*SLG, and OBA*SLG/PF = OBA/sqrt(PF)*SLG/sqrt(PF). While RC may be an antiquated tool, you will find that the square root adjustment is fairly compatible with linear weights or Base Runs as well. I am not going to take the space to demonstrate this claim here, but I will some time in the future.

Many value figures published around the sabersphere adjust for the difference in quality level between the AL and NL. I don't, but this is a thorny area where there is no right or wrong answer as far as I'm concerned. I also do not make an adjustment in the league averages for the fact that the overall NL averages include pitcher batting and the AL does not (not quite true in the era of interleague play, but you get my drift).

The difference between the leagues may not be precisely calculable, and it certainly is not constant, but it is real. If the average player in the AL is better than the average player in the NL, it is perfectly reasonable to expect the average AL player to have more RAR than the average NL player, and that will not happen without some type of adjustment. On the other hand, if you are only interested in evaluating a player relative to his own league, such an adjustment is not necessarily welcome.

The league argument only applies cleanly to metrics baselined to average. Since replacement level compares the given player to a theoretical player that can be acquired on the cheap, the same pool of potential replacement players should by definition be available to the teams of each league. One could argue that if the two leagues don't have equal talent at the major league level, they might not have equal access to replacement level talent--except such an argument is at odds with the notion that replacement level represents talent that is truly "freely available".

So it's hard to justify the approach I take, which is to set replacement level relative to the average runs scored in each league, with no adjustment for the difference in the leagues. The best justification is that it's simple and it treats each league as its own universe, even if in reality they are connected.

The replacement levels I have used here are very much in line with the values used by other sabermetricians. This is based both on my own "research", my interpretation of other's people research, and a desire to not stray from consensus and make the values unhelpful to the majority of people who may encounter them.

Replacement level is certainly not settled science. There is always going to be room to disagree on what the baseline should be. Even if you agree it should be "replacement level", any estimate of where it should be set is just that--an estimate. Average is clean and fairly straightforward, even if its utility is questionable; replacement level is inherently messy. So I offer the average baseline as well.

For position players, replacement level is set at 73% of the positional average RG (since there's a history of discussing replacement level in terms of winning percentages, this is roughly equivalent to .350). For starting pitchers, it is set at 128% of the league average RA (.380), and for relievers it is set at 111% (.450).

I am still using an analytical structure that makes the comparison to replacement level for a position player by applying it to his hitting statistics. This is the approach taken by Keith Woolner in VORP (and some other earlier replacement level implementations), but the newer metrics (among them Rally and Fangraphs' WAR) handle replacement level by subtracting a set number of runs from the player's total runs above average in a number of different areas (batting, fielding, baserunning, positional value, etc.), which for lack of a better term I will call the subtraction approach.

The offensive positional adjustment makes the inherent assumption that the average player at each position is equally valuable. I think that this is close to being true, but it is not quite true. The ideal approach would be to use a defensive positional adjustment, since the real difference between a first baseman and a shortstop is their defensive value. When you bat, all runs count the same, whether you create them as a first baseman or as a shortstop.

That being said, using "replacement hitter at position" does not cause too many distortions. It is not theoretically correct, but it is practically powerful. For one thing, most players, even those at key defensive positions, are chosen first and foremost for their offense. Empirical research by Keith Woolner has shown that the replacement level hitting performance is about the same for every position, relative to the positional average.

Figuring what the defensive positional adjustment should be, though, is easier said than done. Therefore, I use the offensive positional adjustment. So if you want to criticize that choice, or criticize the numbers that result, be my guest. But do not claim that I am holding this up as the correct analytical structure. I am holding it up as the most simple and straightforward structure that conforms to reality reasonably well, and because while the numbers may be flawed, they are at least based on an objective formula that I can figure myself. If you feel comfortable with some other assumptions, please feel free to ignore mine.

That still does not justify the use of HRAR--hitting runs above replacement--which compares each hitter, regardless of position, to 73% of the league average. Basically, this is just a way to give an overall measure of offensive production without regard for position with a low baseline. It doesn't have any real baseball meaning.

A player who creates runs at 90% of the league average could be above-average (if he's a shortstop or catcher, or a great fielder at a less important fielding position), or sub-replacement level (DHs that create 3.5 runs per game are not valuable properties). Every player is chosen because his total value, both hitting and fielding, is sufficient to justify his inclusion on the team. HRAR fails even if you try to justify it with a thought experiment about a world in which defense doesn't matter, because in that case the absolute replacement level (in terms of RG, without accounting for the league average) would be much higher than it is currently.

The specific positional adjustments I use are based on 2002-2011 data. I stick with them because I have not seen compelling evidence of a change in the degree of difficulty or scarcity between the positions between now and then, and because I think they are fairly reasonable. The positions for which they diverge the most from the defensive position adjustments in common use are 2B, 3B, and CF. Second base is considered a premium position by the offensive PADJ (.97), while third base and center field have similar adjustments in the opposite direction (1.03 and 1.02).

Another flaw is that the PADJ is applied to the overall league average RG, which is artificially low for the NL because of pitcher's batting. When using the actual league average runs/game, it's tough to just remove pitchers--any adjustment would be an estimate. If you use the league total of runs created instead, it is a much easier fix.

One other note on this topic is that since the offensive PADJ is a stand-in for average defensive value by position, ideally it would be applied by tying it to defensive playing time. I have done it by outs, though.

The reason I have taken this flawed path is because 1) it ties the position adjustment directly into the RAR formula rather than leaving it as something to subtract on the outside and more importantly 2) there’s no straightforward way to do it. The best would be to use defensive innings--set the full-time player to X defensive innings, figure how Derek Jeter’s innings compared to X, and adjust his PADJ accordingly. Games in the field or games played are dicey because they can cause distortion for defensive replacements. Plate Appearances avoid the problem that outs have of being highly related to player quality, but they still carry the illogic of basing it on offensive playing time. And of course the differences here are going to be fairly small (a few runs). That is not to say that this way is preferable, but it’s not horrible either, at least as far as I can tell.

To compare this approach to the subtraction approach, start by assuming that a replacement level shortstop would create .86*.73*4.5 = 2.825 RG (or would perform at an overall level of equivalent value to being an average fielder at shortstop while creating 2.825 runs per game). Suppose that we are comparing two shortstops, each of whom compiled 600 PA and played an equal number of defensive games and innings (and thus would have the same positional adjustment using the subtraction approach). Alpha made 380 outs and Bravo made 410 outs, and each ranked as dead-on average in the field.

The difference in overall RAR between the two using the subtraction approach would be equal to the difference between their offensive RAA compared to the league average. Assuming the league average is 4.5 runs, and that both Alpha and Bravo created 75 runs, their offensive RAAs are:

Alpha = (75*25.5/380 - 4.5)*380/25.5 = +7.94

Similarly, Bravo is at +2.65, and so the difference between them will be 5.29 RAR.

Using the flawed approach, Alpha's RAR will be:

(75*25.5/380 - 4.5*.73*.86)*380/25.5 = +32.90

Bravo's RAR will be +29.58, a difference of 3.32 RAR, which is two runs off of the difference using the subtraction approach.

The downside to using PA is that you really need to consider park effects if you do, whereas outs allow you to sidestep park effects. Outs are constant; plate appearances are linked to OBA. Thus, they not only depend on the offensive context (including park factor), but also on the quality of one's team. Of course, attempting to adjust for team PA differences opens a huge can of worms which is not really relevant; for now, the point is that using outs for individual players causes distortions, sometimes trivial and sometimes bothersome, but almost always makes one's life easier.

I do not include fielding (or baserunning outside of steals, although that is a trivial consideration in comparison) in the RAR figures--they cover offense and positional value only). This in no way means that I do not believe that fielding is an important consideration in player evaluation. However, two of the key principles of these stat reports are 1) not incorporating any data that is not readily available and 2) not simply including other people's results (of course I borrow heavily from other people's methods, but only adapting methodology that I can apply myself).

Any fielding metric worth its salt will fail to meet either criterion--they use zone data or play-by-play data which I do not have easy access to. I do not have a fielding metric that I have stapled together myself, and so I would have to simply lift other analysts' figures.

Setting the practical reason for not including fielding aside, I do have some reservations about lumping fielding and hitting value together in one number because of the obvious differences in reliability between offensive and fielding metrics. In theory, they absolutely should be put together. But in practice, I believe it would be better to regress the fielding metric to a point at which it would be roughly equivalent in reliability to the offensive metric.

Offensive metrics have error bars associated with them, too, of course, and in evaluating a single season's value, I don't care about the vagaries that we often lump together as "luck". Still, there are errors in our assessment of linear weight values and players that collect an unusual proportion of infield hits or hits to the left side, errors in estimation of park factor, and any number of other factors that make their events more or less valuable than an average event of that type.

Fielding metrics offer up all of that and more, as we cannot be nearly as certain of true successes and failures as we are when analyzing offense. Recent investigations, particularly by Colin Wyers, have raised even more questions about the level of uncertainty. So, even if I was including a fielding value, my approach would be to assume that the offensive value was 100% reliable (which it isn't), and regress the fielding metric relative to that (so if the offensive metric was actually 70% reliable, and the fielding metric 40% reliable, I'd treat the fielding metric as .4/.7 = 57% reliable when tacking it on, to illustrate with a simplified and completely made up example presuming that one could have a precise estimate of nebulous "reliability").

Given the inherent assumption of the offensive PADJ that all positions are equally valuable, once RAR has been figured for a player, fielding value can be accounted for by adding on his runs above average relative to a player at his own position. If there is a shortstop that is -2 runs defensively versus an average shortstop, he is without a doubt a plus defensive player, and a more valuable defensive player than a first baseman who was +1 run better than an average first baseman. Regardless, since it was implicitly assumed that they are both average defensively for their position when RAR was calculated, the shortstop will see his value docked two runs. This DOES NOT MEAN that the shortstop has been penalized for his defense. The whole process of accounting for positional differences, going from hitting RAR to positional RAR, has benefited him.

I've found that there is often confusion about the treatment of first baseman and designated hitters in my PADJ methodology, since I consider DHs as in the same pool as first baseman. The fact of the matter is that first baseman outhit DH. There are any number of potential explanations for this; DHs are often old or injured, players hit worse when DHing than they do when playing the field, etc. This actually helps first baseman, since the DHs drag the average production of the pool down, thus resulting in a lower replacement level than I would get if I considered first baseman alone.

However, this method does assume that a 1B and a DH have equal defensive value. Obviously, a DH has no defensive value. What I advocate to correct this is to treat a DH as a bad defensive first baseman, and thus knock another five or so runs off of his RAR for a full-time player. I do not incorporate this into the published numbers, but you should keep it in mind. However, there is no need to adjust the figures for first baseman upwards --the only necessary adjustment is to take the DHs down a notch.

Finally, I consider each player at his primary defensive position (defined as where he appears in the most games), and do not weight the PADJ by playing time. This does shortchange a player like Ben Zobrist (who saw significant time at a tougher position than his primary position), and unduly boost a player like Buster Posey (who logged a lot of games at a much easier position than his primary position). For most players, though, it doesn't matter much. I find it preferable to make manual adjustments for the unusual cases rather than add another layer of complexity to the whole endeavor.

2018 League

2018 Park Factors

2018 Team

2018 Team Defense

2018 Team Offense

2018 AL Relievers

2018 NL Relievers

2018 AL Starters

2018 NL Starters

2018 AL Hitters

2018 NL Hitters

Monday, October 01, 2018

Crude Playoff Odds -- 2018

These are very simple playoff odds, based on my crude rating system for teams using an equal mix of W%, EW% (based on R/RA), PW% (based on RC/RCA), and 69 games of .500. They account for home field advantage by assuming a .500 team wins 54.2% of home games (major league average 2006-2015). They assume that a team's inherent strength is constant from game-to-game. They do not generally account for any number of factors that you would actually want to account for if you were serious about this, including but not limited to injuries, the current construction of the team rather than the aggregate seasonal performance, pitching rotations, estimated true talent of the players, etc.

The CTRs that are fed in are:

Wilcard game odds (the least useful since the pitching matchups aren’t taken into account, and that matters most when there is just one game):




Because I set this spreadsheet up when home field advantage went to a particular league (as it has been for the entire history of the World Series prior to this year), all of the AL teams are listed as the home team. But the probabilities all consider which team would actually have the home field advantage in each matchup. Incidentally, the first tiebreaker after overall record is intra-divisional record, which if anything should favor the team with the worse record but would amusingly give Cleveland home field advantage in a series against Los Angeles or Colorado.

Putting it all together:

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Enby Distribution, pt. 8: Cigol at the Extremes--Pythagorean Exponent

Among the possible choices, the Pythagorean family of W% estimators is by far the dominant species in the win estimator genus. While I’m sure that anyone reading this is aware, just to be sure, the Pythagorean family takes the form:

W% = R^x/(R^x + RA^x)

While as a co-purveyor of one of the variants I am not exactly unbiased in this matter, here are a few reasons as to why this family dominates sabermetric usage:

1. The Bill James effect--The number one reason why Pythagorean estimators are widely used is because of Bill James. Had James used a RPW method as Pete Palmer did, I would still be writing soapbox-y blog posts about why some other form made more sense (as I still do from time to time on the matter on run estimation, in which Palmer’s form has finally won the day over James). Had James not used Pythagorean, it is possible that whatever non-linear win estimator was widely used in sabermetrics (and one doubtlessly would have been developed) would take on a different form than Pythagorean.

2. Naturally bounded at zero and one--Winning percentage is by its nature bounded at zero and one. The Pythagorean form inherently captures this reality. Had the trail in this area been blazed by statisticians rather than James, we might have gotten a logit or probit regression equation that did the same, just to name a couple of common functions that also are bounded by zero and one. In order to have a theoretically justifiable formula, the bounds must be observed, and Pythagorean is a fairly straight forward way to do it.

3. Non-linearity reflects reality--It can be demonstrated even with “extreme” but actual major league teams that the run-to-wins relationship is non-linear. Pythagorean may not capture this perfectly, but it seems right to account for it in some way. This is one reason why people still cling to Runs Created after it was shown to be inaccurate (particularly before Base Runs, which fills the void, had been popularized)--people inherently realize that run scoring is a non-linear process, and are more comfortable with a method that recognizes that, even if it captures the effect in a very flawed manner.

James’ original versions used fixed exponents (x = 2 , refined to x = 1.83) but the breakthrough research on factoring scoring context into the equation was performed by Clay Davenport and Keith Woolner at Baseball Prospectus, who found that an exponent x = 1.5*log(RPG) + .45 worked well when RPG was greater than 4. This variant is known as Pythagenport. A couple years later, David Smyth realized that the minimum possible RPG was one, since a game will continue indefinitely until one side wins (which requires scoring one run), and that if a team had a RPG of one, their exponent would have to be equal to one. Based on this insight, Smyth and I were able to both independently find a form that returned an estimate of x = 1 at RPG = 1 and also estimates similar to Pythagenport for normal teams. This form has become known as Pythagenpat.

Let’s begin by trying to find an equation to estimate the exponent based on RPG from our Cigol estimates. In order to do this, we first need to be able to solve for the exponent x from W% and Run Ratio:

W/L = (R/RA)^x is a restatement of the generic Pythagorean equation W% = R^x/(R^x + RA^x)

thus x = log(W/L)/log(R/RA)

which when working with W% can be expressed equivalently as:

x = log(W%/(1 - W%))/log(R/RA)

We can now attempt to fit a regression line to predict x from RPG based on the Cigol estimates. For illustration, I’ll start with the full data discussed last time rather than what I’ll call the limited set (the limited set is limited to normal-ish major league teams--W%s between .3 and .7 with R/G and RA/G between 3 and 7):

This graph is not very helpful, but one can see the general shape, which can be approximated by a logarithmic curve as noted by Davenport and Woolner. I’ve gone ahead and included the logarithmic regression line per Excel, but you’ll note that it uses natural log rather than base-10 log as in Pythagenport. Running a regression on log(RPG) results in this equation:

x = 1.346*log(RPG) + .596

That is a relatively decent match for Pythagenport--the two equations produce essentially the same exponent at normal RPGs (for example, for 9 RPG the Pythagenport exponent is 1.881 and the regression exponent is 1.880). At lower RPGs, the higher intercept in the regression equation allows the estimate to be closer to one at the known point, but it still falls well short of matching the known point value of one.

Just to be complete, we can also look at how this relationship plays out in the limited set:

Here, the base-10 equation is:

x = 1.324*log(RPG) + .580

One thing that is interesting to note is that in the last installment, when we focused on estimating Runs Per Win, the regression equations were quite different depending on which dataset was being used. Here, whether looking at the full scope of teams or the limited set, the regression equations are quite close. This implies that the manner in which we are expressing W% (Pythagorean) is closer to capturing the real relationship between scoring context and W% than is the RPW model. If there existed a perfect model, it would have the same equation regardless of which data was used to calibrate it. While Pythagorean is not a perfect model, it exhibits a consistency that the run differential-based model does not.

As the graphs illustrate, the relationship between RPG and x appears to follow a logarithmic curve, and so it is quite understandable that Davenport and Woolner chose this form. However, Smyth and I both found that a power regression also provided a nice fit for the curve (for example, this is the result for the all teams Cigol estimate):

The power estimate does an excellent job of matching the Cigol-implied exponent at very low levels of RPG. Mathematically, it works well for this task since one raised to any power is equal to one. Since the logarithm of one is zero, the logarithmic form would only be able to match reality at 1 RPG by setting the intercept equal to one, which would distort results at higher RPG values.

As RPG grows large, though, the power model begins overestimating the exponent, while the logarithmic model provides a tighter fit. From a practical standpoint, performance at low levels of RPG is much more important than performance at high levels of RPG, since extremely low RPGs are much more likely to exist in the majors. As a stickler for theoretical accuracy, though, it is a bit troubling to see that the power regression and Cigol are not a great match at the right tail.

If we restrict the sample to the limited set, we find:

Here the power model also provides a decent fit, although it appears to be overfitted to moderate RPG levels more so than the version based on the full dataset.

It should be noted that the regression includes a multiplicative coefficient (.979 for the full dataset) which serves to dampen the effect of the exponent. However, any multiplier other than one will result in a non-one result at one RPG, which means that Smyth’s fundamental insight that led to Pythagenpat is lost. I believe that when I originally came up with Pythagenpat, I simply ignored the multiplicative coefficient from the regression and made no offsetting adjustment.

While neither approach is precise mathematically, another crude option is to modify the exponent to force the x estimate to match the with-coefficient equation at a certain RPG. At the normal 9 RPG level, the full dataset equation above suggests a Pythagorean exponent of 1.863. With a multiplier of 1, you would need the following equation to match that:

x = RPG^.2831

Such a result fits comfortably within our expectation for Pythagenpat.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

A Mildly Pleasant Surprise

Given the low expectations that this author held for the 2018 Buckeyes, the season that was can be seen as quite successful. Rebounding from a dreadful 2017, OSU went 36-23 and 14-10 in the Big Ten. Although finishing in the exact middle of the conference (seventh), strength of schedule and a solid non-conference showing that included wins over Southern Miss and Coastal Carolina earned Ohio a second NCAA tournament bid under eighth-year coach Greg Beals. In the tournament, OSU’s bullpen buckled in the opener against South Carolina (8-3 loss), and a mid-game delay bifurcated the 4-3 thirteen inning loss to UNC-Wilmington that ended the season.

While the season itself was a success, the 2019 roster would appear to have a number of question marks, and in this corner, while rooting against the team is never an option, further job security for Beals is problematic.

Coming into the season it appeared that starting pitching would be a major issue after a disastrous 2017. It still was; the team succeeded despite, not because, of its starting pitching. Junior Connor Curlis was the only reliable starter, turning in 8 RAA while tying for the team lead with 17 appearances and 16 starts. Curlis was drafted by Cincinnati in the 24th round. Tying Curlis in appearances/starts and pitching 92 innings to lead him by three was classmate Ryan Feltner. Despite possessing good enough stuff to be a fourth round pick of Colorado, Feltner was -13 RAA with a 6.06 eRA that suggested he really pitched that poorly. Feltner’s ERA was held down as he allowed a whopping 21 unearned runs that drove his RA just over two runs higher than his ERA. (As an aside, OSU did not field well at all, last in the Big Ten with a .924 mFA and .647 DER). The other weekend starter, senior Adam Niemeyer, fared even worse at -15 RAA.

The bullpen was the saving grace, led by senior Seth Kinker who capped his career as one of the finest relievers in school history by walking just five batters in 63 innings, fanning 60, and leading the team with 13 RAA. The only real blemish on Kinker’s season was that he was unable to hold the lead in the NCAA opener against the Gamecocks. OSU also got solid work from senior Austin Woodby (9 RAA in 45 innings) and sophomore Jake Vance (3 RAA in 36 innings). Senior Kyle Michalik was slightly below average but still reliable, while classmate and erstwhile closer Yianni Pavlopulous somehow matched him at -2 RAA despite a ghastly 28/33 K/W ratio over 36 innings. His career came to an unfairly ignominious end when he was walked off by UNCW. Beals always relies on lefty specialists but sophomore Andrew Magno was injured early and freshman Griffin Smith (-7 RAA in 32 innings over 25 appearances) wasn’t ready for prime time. Junior Thomas Waning, who showed promise in 2017 as Michalik’s heir apparent as a sidearming middle reliever, was rocked for 18 runs in 16 innings.

It was offense that drove OSU’s success, as the Bucks averaged 6.5 runs per game (good for second in the conference). Junior Jacob Barnwell was again productive enough (-3 RAA) given his solid catch/throw game, and Colorado concurred, plucking him in the 22nd round of the draft. Freshman Dillon Dingler started the year as his backup before eventually becoming the starting center fielder (that’s nothing, as prior backstop Jalen Washington went to shortstop between 2016 - 2017); his .244/.325/.369 line definitely understates the future that the coaching staff sees for him. Junior Andrew Fishel got only 39 PA and slugged just .294, leaving backstop as a huge question mark for 2019.

Dingler wasn’t the only Buckeye who played at multiple positions, as the defensive alignment was in flux for much of the season. After getting hurt in his first season, senior JUCO transfer Noah McGowan was a monster, mashing .351/.433/.561 for 25 RAA, one of the best offensive outbursts by a Buckeye in recent years. McGowan played primarily first, third, and DH, where classmate Bo Coolen did not have as impressive of a second year bounce with an ISO of just .086 en route to -3 RAA. Junior JUCO transfer Kobie Foppe started at short but eventually moved to second coinciding with turning around his season at the plate. Foppe filled the leadoff role perfectly with a .335/.432/.385 line that produced 11 RAA. He took the spot lost by junior Brady Cherry, who failed to build on a promising sophomore season (.260/.336/.410 in 2017 to .226/.321/.365 in 2018).

Sophomore Connor Pohl started at third but eventually swapped corners with McGowan; his production was underwhelming for the latter role (.279/.377/.393 for 3 RAA) but still quite playable. Foppe’s replacement at short was sophomore Noah West, who improved on his 2017 offensive showing by taking walks but still has much room for improvement in other areas (.223/.353/.292). Junior Nate Romans was good in his utility role (.236/.360/.431 over 91 PA).

Senior Tyler Cowles also followed the Noah McGowan career path (although Cowles really struggled in 2017 as opposed to being derailed by injuries); Cowles was second on the team with 13 RAA from a .322/.381/.582 line. The aforementioned Dingler took centerfield after JUCO transfer Malik Jones struggled mightily outside of patience (.245/.383/.286 in 63 PA). Sophomore Dominic Canzone took a slight step back but was still excellent (.323/.396/.447 for 11 RAA) and will be counted on to anchor the 2019 attack.

It’s too early to draw many conclusions about the outlook for 2019, especially given Beals’ penchant for supplementing his roster through the JUCO ranks. But it is striking to note how the entire already mediocre starting rotation and most of the high-performing relievers are gone, along with the starting catcher and two of the top three offensive performers at the corners. As has usually been the case through his tenure, Beals will look to his modest past successes to ward off the heat that can result from a roster short on homegrown replacements. At a school where the demand for winning can sometimes be cutthroat, Beals has survived almost a decade by skirting by doing the bare minimum needed.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Enby Distribution, pt. 7: Cigol at the Extremes--Runs Per Win

Now that you presumably have some confidence in Cigol’s ability to do something fairly easy by the standards of classical sabermetrics, you may have some more interest in what Cigol says about a much harder question--how does W% vary by runs scored and runs allowed in extreme situations? This is the area in which Cigol (whether powered by Enby or any other run distribution model) has the potential to enhance our understanding of the relationship between runs and wins. Unfortunately, it is difficult to tell whether these results are reasonable, since we don’t have empirical data regarding extreme teams. If Cigol deviates from Pythagenpat, we won’t know which one to trust. Throughout this post, I am going to discuss these issues as if Cigol is in fact the “true” or “correct” estimate. This is simply for the sake of discussion--it would be unwieldy to have to issue a disclaimer every time we compare Cigol and Pythagenpat. Please note that I am not asserting that this is demonstrably the case.

For a first look at how the two compare at the extreme, let’s assume that a team’s runs scored are fixed at an average 4.5, and look at their estimated W% at each interval of .5 in runs allowed from 1-15 RA/G using Cigol and Pythagenpat with three different exponents (.27, .28, and .29; I’ve always called this Pythagenpat constant z and will stick with that notation here, hoping that it will not be confused with the Enby z parameter):

Just eyeballing the data, two things are evident. The first is that Pythagenpat with any of the exponent choices is a fairly decent match at any RA value. The largest differences come at the extremes, as you’d expect, but the maximum difference is .013 between the Cigol and z = .27 estimate for the 4.5 R/15 RA team. This is a difference of a little over 2 wins over the course of a 162 game schedule, which isn’t terrible since it represents close to the maximum discrepancy. While I have not figured Enby parameters past 15 RG, at some point the differences would begin to decline as both Cigol and Pythagenpat estimates converge at a 1.000 W%. For comparison, a Pythagorean fixed exponent of 1.83 predicts a W% of .099 for the 4.5/15 team, almost 8 wins/162 off of the Cigol estimate.

The second thing that becomes apparent is that Cigol implies that as scoring increases, the Pythagenpat z constant is not fixed. For the lowest RPGs on the table (1-3 RA/G, which when combined with the 4.5 R/G is 5.5-7.5 RPG), .27 performs the best relative to Cigol. Once we cross 3.5 RA/G, .28 performs best, and maintains that advantage from 3.5-8 RA/G (8-12.5 RPG). Past that point (>8.5 RA/G, >13 RPG), .29 is the top-performer. This explains why studies have tended to peg z somewhere in the .28-.29 range, as such a value represents the best fit at normal major league scoring levels.

A nice way to see the relationship is to plot the difference (Pythagenpat - Cigol) relative to RA/G for each exponent:

The point at which all converge is 4.5 RA/G, where R = RA and all estimators predict .500. As you can see, the differences converge as we approach either a .000 or 1.000 W%, since there is a hard cap on the linear difference at those points.

This exercise gives us some direction on where to go, but it is not comprehensive enough to draw any conclusions. In order to do that, we need a more comprehensive set of data than simply fixing R/G at 4.5. To do so, I figured the Cigol W% for each interval of .25 runs scored and runs allowed between 1-15 RPG (removing all points at which R = RA). This yields 3,192 R/RA pairs, many of which are so extreme as to be absurd, which is the point.

In order to make sense of this data, we will need to simplify the scope of what we are considering, so let’s start by trying to ascertain the relationship between runs and wins if we assume that a linear model should be used. Basically, the idea here is that we should be able to determine a runs per win (RPW) factor such that:

W% = (R - RA)/RPW + .5

From this, we can calculate RPW given W%, R, and RA as:

RPW = (R - RA)/(W% - .5)

In its most simple form, this type of equation assumes a fixed number of runs per win; for standard scoring contexts, 10 is a nice, round number that does the job and of course has become famous as a sabermetric rule of thumb. But it has long been known that RPW varies with the scoring context, and usually sabermetricians have attempted to express this by making RPW a function of RPG. So let’s graph our data in that manner:

As you can see, RPW is not even close to being a linear function of RPG when extreme teams are considered. The bulk of the observations scattered around a nice, linear-looking function, but the outliers are such that the linear function will fail horrifically at the extremes. And when I say extremes, I really mean extremes. For instance, a 15 R/1 RA team is at 16 RPG, but would need much more than 16 marginal runs for a marginal win--Cigol estimates that such a team would need 28.11 marginal runs (as would it’s 1/15 counterpart). This should make sense to you logically--the team’s W% is already so high, and so many of the games blowouts, that you need to scatter a large number of runs around to move the win needle. This point represents the maximum RPW for the points I’ve included--the minimum is 3.69 at 1.25/1.

This is not to say that a linear model cannot be used to estimate W%; it is simply the case that one linear model cannot be used to estimate W% over a wide range of possible scoring contexts and/or disparities in team strength. Let’s suppose that we limit the scope of our data in each of these manners. First, let’s consider only cases in which a team’s runs are between 3-7 and its runs allowed are between 3-7. This essentially captures the range of teams in modern major league baseball and limits the sample to 272 data points:

I’ve taken the liberty of including a linear regression line, which now has the slope we’d expect (recall that Tango’s formula for RPW is .75*RPG + 3, and that this is consistent with Pythagenpat). The line is shifted up more than the best fit using normal teams or centering Pythagenpat at 9 RPG indicates, as there are still some extreme combinations here (for example, a 7 R/3 RA team is expected by Cigol to play .815 ball, well beyond anything we’ll ever see in modern MLB).

We can also try limiting the data in another way--only looking at cases in which the resulting records are feasible in modern MLB. For simplicity, I’ll define this as cases in which the Cigol W% is between .300 and .700 (yes, I realize the 2001 Mariners and 2003 Tigers fall outside of this range in terms of actual W%, but in fact it’s probably too wide of a band if we consider only expected W% based on R and RA). Here are the results from our Cigol data points, including all intervals of R and RA between 1-15 (this leaves us with 1,126 cases):

Once again, the slope of the line is the ballpark of what we observe with normal teams, but the intercept is still off, shifting the line up to get closer to the extreme cases. If we make both adjustments simultaneously (look only at cases between 3-7 R, 3-7 RA, and .3-.7 Cigol W%), we are left with 202 data points and this graph:

Closer still, with the slope now essentially exactly where we expect it to be, but the intercept still shifting the line upwards. Why is this happening? We know that it’s not because of a breakdown of Cigol when estimating W% for normal teams--as we saw in the previous post, Cigol is of comparable accuracy to Pythagenpat and RPW = .75*RPG + 3 with normal teams. What’s happening is that we are not biasing our sample with near-.500 team as happens when we observe real major league data. All of our hypothetical teams have a run differential of at least +/- .25. In 1996-2006, about one quarter of teams had run differentials of less than +/- .25.
The standard deviation of W% for 1996-2006 was .073; the standard deviation of Cigol W% for this data is .111. This illustrates the point that I and other sabermetricians who seek theoretical soundness make repeatedly--using normal major league full season data, the variance is small enough that any halfway intelligible model will come close to predicting whatever it is your predicting. Anything that centers estimated W% at .500 and allows it to vary as run differential varies from zero will work just fine. But if you run into a sample that includes a lot of unusual cases, or you start looking at smaller sample sizes, or a higher variance league, or try to extrapolate results to individual player data, then many formulas that work just fine normally will begin to break down.

A linear conversion between runs and wins breaks down in extreme cases for a few main reasons, including no bounds as is the case for real world W% [0,1] and the declining value of marginal runs on not one but two determinants--scoring context and differential between the two teams. There are some things we could attempt to do to salvage it, such as introducing run differential as a variable. If we did this, we could allow RPW to increase not only as RPG increases, but also as absolute value of RD increases.

Let’s use the pared down in both dimensions data set to find a RPW estimator using both RPG and abs(RD) as predictors. I simply ran a multiple regression and got this equation:

RPW = .732*RPG + .204*abs(R - RA) + 3.081

If we assume that a team has R = RA, then this equation is a very good match for our expected .75*RPG + 3, as it would reduce to .732*RPG + 3.081. This is encouraging, since it should work with normal teams and offers the prospect for better performance with extreme teams.

Remember, though, that “extreme” teams in the context of this dataset is a lot more restrictive than extreme teams in the broader set--we've limited the data to only 3-7 R, 3-7 RA, and .3-.7 Cigol W%. If we step outside of that range, the equation will break down again. For example, a 10 R/5 RA has a RPW of 15.081 according to this equation, which suggests a .832 W% versus the .819 expected by Cigol. While this is not a catastrophic error (and much better than the .851 suggested by .75*RPG + 3), don’t lose sight of the fact that the W% function is non-linear.

If we use this equation on the rounded to nearest .05 1996-2006 major league data discussed in the last post, the RMSE times 162 is 3.858--just a tad worse than the RPW version that does not account for RD, but still comparable to (in fact, slightly lower RMSE than) the heavy hitters Pythagenpat and Cigol. It produces a very good match for Cigol over this dataset, in fact closer to Cigol than is Pythagenpat with z = .28.

A similar equation to this one was previously developed by Tango Tiger (which is where I got the idea to use abs(R - RA) as the second variable; there might be some other ways one could construct the equation and achieve a similar outcome) and posted on FanHome in 2001:

RPW = .756*RPG + .403*abs(R - RA) + 2.645

In this version, the lower intercept is offset by the higher coefficient on RD.

We can also attempt to improve the RPW estimate by using a non-linear equation. The best fit comes from a power regression, and again I will limit this to the 3-7 RPG, .300-.700 Cigol W% set of teams to produce this estimate:

RPW = 2.171*RPG^.691

This may look familiar, because as I have demonstrated in the past, the Pythagenpat implied RPW at a given RPG for a .500 team is 2*RPG^(1 - z). Here the implied z value of .309 is higher than we typically see (.27 - .29), but the form is essentially the same.

Any linear approximation might work well near the RPG/team quality level where it was constructed, but will falter outside of that range. We could develop an equation based on teams similar to the 10/5 example that would work well for them, but we’d necessarily lose accuracy when looking at normal teams. Non-linear W% functions allow us to capture a wider range of contexts with one particular equation. We can push the envelope a little bit by using a non-linear estimate of RPW, but we’d still have to be very careful as we varied the scoring context and skill difference between the teams.

Assuming we are not just satisfied with an equation to use for normal teams, all of this caution is a lot to go through to salvage a functional form that still allows for sub-zero or greater than one W% estimates. Instead, it makes more sense to attempt to construct a W% estimate that bounds W% between 0 and 1 and builds-in non-linearity. This of course is why Bill James and many sabermetricians who have followed have turned to the Pythagorean family of estimators.