Sunday, May 25, 2014

OPS at the Park

Saturday night I was at the Reds game against the Cardinals. On the big scoreboard they displayed BA/OPS/HR/RBI and on the ribbon boards they displayed BA/HR/RBI/OBA/SLG/R (I didn’t write this down, so I might be off a little on the categories, but I think the preceding is a pretty fair representation). In any event, there was a group of four people sitting in the row in front of me. It appeared to be a father, two adult daughters, and one of the daughter’s boyfriend/husband.

Late in the game, the gentleman asked the group what “OPS” was. The boyfriend said something to the effect of "It’s a stat that’s supposed to tell you how good of a hitter a player is", but didn't seem to know any details. This being 2014, he got out his phone and looked it up. It appeared that this took him to the Wikipedia page, which after explaining that OPS is the sum of OBA and SLG , says it can also be computed in one equation as follows:

OPS = (AB*(H + W + HB) + TB*(AB + W + HB + SF))/(AB*(AB + W + HB + SF))

He proceeded to show this to the rest of the group, and the reaction appeared to be "wow, that’s really complicated". It wasn’t "that stat must be bunk because it’s complicated", but seemed to be more of a “I’m not interested in learning more about this because it’s too complicated”.

In observing this I started thinking about what I might have said was I somehow involved in this conversation. Would I have thrown OPS (a metric about which I have written negative things about more times than I can count) under the bus by agreeing that it was too complicated, all the while concealing the fact that my preferred metrics might appear to be even more complicated to a layperson? Would I have said that the equation above was more complex than it needed to be, because it could be written as the equivalent and decomposed (H + W + HB)/(AB + W + HB + SF) + TB/AB--hand-waiving away the fact that the more complex version provides insight into how events are actually weighted by OPS? Would I, not wishing to contribute to any anti-sabermetric sentiment but also with no desire to teach a saber 101 course, have offered a lame defense of OPS?

Of course, I wasn’t involved in this conversation, and certainly wasn’t going to insert myself into it, so this was all hypothetical. But I think the thought exercise is worthwhile to consider for those who do have an interest in what I’ll call for lack of a better term sabermetric evangelization. I am not one of them, but if you are interested in getting more casual fans interested in sabermetrics, you should consider whether you could explain the metrics that you are advocating if asked to do so. I would draw a distinction between a metric that is complex in order to achieve precision or theoretical considerations, and one that has properties that defy explanation. If you think you could explain why total bases are weighted by plate appearances and times on base are weighted by at bats, then by all means, go ahead and point people to the Wikipedia page for OPS. Good luck.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

1882 NL

1882 would be a very eventful year for baseball, but that was belied by the NL’s lack of pre-season franchise changes; this was be the first season in which all league members returned. For the first time, the NL had a serious rival operating in a similar fashion to itself, the American Association. Also significantly, William Hulbert died on April 10, leaving the league without its founder and president. Arthur Soden of Boston was his successor.

There were no significant rule changes. Players were required to account for their own bats and uniforms when they were on the road, and were also obligated to purchase at least two uniform sets. In one of the final actions of Hulbert’s tenure, reacting in response to a supposed AA plan, the league adopted a uniform color-coding scheme in which each position would wear a different color uniform (there is some disagreement in the secondary sources about this, and I’d like to believe that’s because it never really happened). Pitchers wore baby blue, catchers scarlet, first baseman scarlet and white, second baseman orange and black, third baseman blue and white, shortstops maroon, left fielders white, center fielders red and black, and right fielders gray. The ridiculousness of this should be obvious, and it was quickly quashed if it ever had existed at all (there are varying reports in the secondary sources about whether players actually took the field dressed like clowns or not).

Arthur Irwin, the Providence shortstop, is said to have been the first to use a padded glove, and his teammate Paul Hines has been cited as the first player to wear sunglasses. As with other such firsts, these are potentially dubious in their accuracy. Cap Anson was called out during a May 5 game for walking back to the base after a foul ball instead of running; this minor rule was done away with after the season. On May 25, Curry Foley of Buffalo became the first major leaguer to hit for the cycle in a 20-1 rout of Cleveland. On August 17, Providence defeated Detroit 1-0 in eighteen innings on Hoss Radbourn’s home run; it would be the longest major league shutout until 1967. Chicago’s brilliant Larry Corcoran no-hit Boston 5-0 on September 20 to become the first author of multiple no-nos.

Umpire Dick Higham, employed by Detroit (umpires in this time were employed by teams and went on road trips with them) purportedly wrote a gambler a letter telling him how to bet on a May 30 Wolverine game against Providence. He was subsequently dropped by Detroit and umpired for Troy on June 20-22, but then was called to a hearing on June 24 in Detroit. Higham claimed that he was innocent, but nonetheless was removed. He is the only umpire ever explicitly expelled for dishonesty.

The pennant race turned into a two team affair. Two-time defending champ Chicago put up some impressive performances (exemplified by a 35-4 thumping of Cleveland in late July), but Providence had the lead by three games with sixteen to play. The White Stockings went on a 15-1 tear to take the pennant by three games.

However, controversy abounded. The final three scheduled White Stocking games at Buffalo were moved to Chicago for financial reasons. This was objected to by Providence, and the Grays wanted a special series after the regular season to determine the pennant. Chicago assented, although it is unclear whether this was ever actually regarded as championship series.

By the time it ended, there were no such questions. Chicago played the first three games of the nine game series with players out of position (and Abner Dalrymple and Joe Quest on the bench) and fell behind 3-0. They wound up winning the series 5-4 with a 19-7 win in the ninth game, played at Fort Wayne long after general interest had been exhausted.

Entering the offseason, the National League would be looking for two new members and dealing with the realization that they finally had a rival worthy of their respect.


Chicago was even better in EW% than their actual record, but game scores like 35-4 will do that for you. The standings wound up playing out in the exact order of EW%, except for the third place tie between Boston and Buffalo. It was also another fairly balanced year for the league as only Worcester was dreadful and no one ran away and hid.

In 1882, the league hit .251/.271/.342 for a .130 SEC, 5.41 runs and 24.33 outs per game.


The White Stockings returned the entire regular lineup from their 1881 pennant winner, although there were minor shuffles in the lineup; second baseman Joe Quest was benched, Tom Burns slid from short to second, King Kelly came in from right to play short, and Hugh Nicol came off the bench to take over right. However, for the late season pennant push, Anson reinstalled Quest and benched Nicol. Neither man hit much; Quest was pretty much at replacement level in his 167 PA.

Al Spalding decided that he wanted an anonymous official scorer who would therefore be free from the various pressures inherent to the job. He hired a woman named Elisa Green Williams, who did the job in secret for many years.

According to an anecdote in Bill James’ Historical Baseball Abstract, the term “Charley horse” originated when the Chicago players attended a racetrack one day and witnessed a horse named Charley break down. The next day, when George Gore pulled up lame on a stolen base attempt, two and two came together. Do I buy it? No, but anecdotes that combine horse racing and baseball are hard to come by.


The Grays also displayed a great deal of lineup stability; considering that Chicago and Providence had run 1-2 in the previous two seasons, it seemed to be wise policy. The only changes were Harry Wright as the new manager after his long stint in Boston, and his brother George coming out of retirement for his swan song at age 35. Wright was only a shadow of his former self, with a pitiful 35 ARG.

In an attempt to stimulate attendance, the Grays and their opponents paraded through the streets of the city before games.


The Reds replaced departed manager Harry Wright with longtime infielder John Morrill. There were no wholesale shits on the infield, only rookie Sam Wise (4 PA for Detroit in 1881) replacing Ross Barnes at shortstop (how that came about is a story for the AA section). Perhaps Morrill’s own experience of being yanked around the infield (he had played every position on a regular basis for at least one season except short) influenced him to keep the infield intact.

Pat Deasley, a reserve in 1881, became the full-time catcher as Pop Smith moved to Cincinnati of the AA. Pete Hotaling of Worcester took over center field, rookie Ed Rowen inherited right field, and Bobby Mathews was brought in as Grasshopper Jim’s #2 after pitching for the Grays in 1881. Whitney, always a fine hitter, paced the team in BA, OBA, SLG, RG, and WAA. His 61 runs created were only four off the team lead of Morrill and Joe Hornung, who made 70 and 90 more outs respectively.


The Bisons shuffled their lineup a bit, moving players back to their more natural positions. Jim O’Rourke went from third to center, Deacon White from left to third, and Hardy Richardson from center to second. Blondie Purcell took the full-time job in left field after amassing 205 PA in 1881 between Buffalo and Cleveland. He would be fined $10 for cutting a wet ball in an attempt to make the umpire put a new one into play. Pud Galvin complained that he could not throw his curve properly with a wet ball.

Rookie #2 pitcher Hugh Daily was called One Arm because, well, he had one arm.


The Blues had two rookies (catcher Fatty Briody (4 PA for Troy in 1880) and third baseman Mike Muldoon) in their lineup. Left fielder Dude Esterbrook has not played in the league since 1880 (Buffalo) and center fielder John Richmond was brought in from Boston.

In the aforementioned 35-4 shellacking at the hands of the champion White Stockings, reserve outfielder Dave Rowe was in the box, and gave up 29 hits and 7 walks.


The Wolverines were at the center of the relatively limited player battles between the NL and the AA; again, this topic will be expounded upon in the AA entry, but backup infielders Dasher Troy (11 games in 1881) and Sam Wise (1 game) were not reserved after the 1881 season and signed with AA clubs. Eventually, Troy returned to Detroit and was the regular second baseman, while Wise wound up with Boston. Catcher Charlie Bennett was a major point of contention as well, but that was for an 1883 contract.

Rookie Joe Farrell was the third baseman, while Mike McGeary was imported from Cleveland to play short.


The Trojans featured two regular rookies, shortstop Fred Pfeffer and pitcher Jim Egan. John Smith started the year as the first baseman but later wound up in Worcester. Buck Ewing played third primarily (44 games), but also caught 25 games. Roger Connor as a center fielder seems interesting, but he actually spent more time at first (43 G) than he did in the outfield (24). Outside of Pete Gillespie and Chief Roseman, the outfield situation was quite murky.

The team finished only 19.5 games back, but it probably seemed a lot worse. They suffered through a sixteen game losing streak, lost money to the point where they had to be subsidized, and were eventually kicked to the curb, a casualty of the skirmish with the AA and good old-fashioned financial problems.


The Brown Stockings finished 18.5 games behind Troy. The team featured two rookie outfielders, Tom O’Brien and Jackie Hayes. Left fielder Jim Clinton had not played in the National League since 1876 (with Louisville). An interesting transaction apparently resulted in Frank Mountain being loaned to Philadelphia of the AA for about a month beginning around the end of May.

The team drew just 11,000 fans for the entire season, around 260 a game. In an attempt to boost attendance, the team pioneered the single admission doubleheader. The roster was overhauled in an attempt to remove “rowdiness and dissension”, and franchise pitcher Lee Richmond was hampered by a sore arm. Despite this, he was one of just two regulars to hit better than the league average (first baseman Harry Stovey was the other).

In September, the NL voted to drop Troy and Worcester, perhaps fearful of the AA’s upper hand in attendance and entry into large cities long ignored by the NL, or just plain tired of having weak sisters in the circuit. Worcester apparently threatened to resign at this point, which would have caused all their games to be struck from the standings. This was confusion was another catalyst in some of the Chicago/Providence pennant controversy, but Worcester played 84 games, so apparently it wound up being an idle threat.

The departure of Troy and Worcester essentially marked the end of an era in which a very small city (relatively, of course) could field a "major league" team, with the exception of the future chaotic three league seasons.

Leaders and trailers:
1. Dan Brouthers, BUF (.368)
2. Cap Anson, CHN (.362)
3. Roger Connor, TRO (.330)
Trailer: Doc Bushong, WOR (.158)
1. Dan Brouthers, BUF (.403)
2. Cap Anson, CHN (.397)
3. Jim Whitney, BSN (.382)
Trailer: Doc Bushong, WOR (.174)
1. Dan Brouthers, BUF (.547)
2. Roger Connor, TRO (.530)
3. Jim Whitney, BSN (.510)
Trailer: George Wright, PRO (.189)
Doc Bushong’s BA was .004 lower than Wright’s, his OBA .006. I’m not sure that I’m aware of a superstar who ended his career in a sorrier state than George Wright did, essentially as the worst regular in the league or close to it. That doesn’t mean there isn’t one; I just can’t think of one. This was a rapidly evolving and improving game.
1. Jim Whitney, BSN (.283)
2. Dan Brouthers, BUF (.239)
3. Roger Connor, TRO (.238)
Trailer: George Wright, POR (.049)
1. Dan Brouthers, BUF (90)
2. Cap Anson, CHN (84)
3. Roger Connor, TRO (79)
4. George Gore, CHN (77)
5. Paul Hines, PRO (75)
1. Dan Brouthers, BUF (197)
2. Jim Whitney, BSN (190)
3. Cap Anson, CHN (184)
4. Roger Connor, TRO (166)
5. Joe Start, PRO (163)
Trailer: Doc Bushong, WOR (34)
1. Dan Brouthers, BUF (+3.9)
2. Cap Anson, CHN (+3.4)
3. Paul Hines, PRO (+3.0)
4. Roger Connor, TRO (+2.8)
5. Jim Whitney, BSN (+2.8)
Trailer: Doc Bushong, PRO (-2.6)
1. Dan Brouthers, BUF (+4.8)
2. Paul Hines, PRO (+4.4)
3. Jim Whitney, BSN (+4.3)
4. Jack Glasscock, CLE (+4.3)
5. Cap Anson, CHN (+4.2)
Trailer: Doc Bushong, WOR (-1.0)
1. Larry Corcoran, CHN (68)
2. Fred Goldsmith, CHN (75)
3. Hoss Radbourn, PRO (84)
4. Jim McCormick, CLE (86)
5. Stump Wiedman, DET (86)
Trailer: Fred Corey, WOR (139)
1. Larry Corcoran, CHN (+3.0)
2. Fred Goldsmith, CHN (+2.7)
3. Jim McCormick, CLE (+2.3)
4. Hoss Radbourn, PRO (+2.0)
5. Stump Wiedman, DET (+1.5)
Trailer: George Derby, DET (-2.6)
1. Jim Whitney, BSN (+5.0)
2. Hoss Radbourn, PRO (+3.9)
3. Larry Corcoran, CHN (+3.5)
4. Jim McCormick, CLE (+3.2)
5. Fred Goldsmith, CHN (+3.1)
Trailer: George Derby, DET (-2.5)

My all-star team:
C: Charlie Bennett, DET
1B: Dan Brouthers, BUF
2B: Fred Dunlap, CLE
3B: Ed Williamson, CHN
SS: Jack Glasscock, CLE
LF: Joe Hornung, BSN
CF: Paul Hines, PRO
RF: Curry Foley, BUF
P: Jim Whitney, BSN
P: Hoss Radbourn, PRO
MVP: SS Jack Glasscock, CLE
Rookie Hitter: 3B Mike Muldoon, CLE
Rookie Pitcher: One Arm Daily, BUF

I went with Joe Hornung over a close group in left field that included Dalrymple, York, and Wood on the strength of his +12 Fielding Runs (ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia, Palmer & Gillette).

The right field crop is very weak; Curry Foley at 2.2 WAR wouldn’t be in the top four in left or the top three in center. Actually, I would pick the two runner-up centerfielders (Gore and Connor, with the caveat that Connor was playing first more than the outfield) over Hornung or Curry. However, my principle has been to pick guys who actually played the position for the “all-star team”, not players at comparable positions who were actually more valuable. This is especially problematic in the early years of the NL as right field was still much-used as a place to hide a butcher or a change pitcher.

The rookie crop this year was very weak as well. In past seasons, there had always been rookies with a legitimate claim to being the all-star at their position. This season, Mike Muldoon was solid (2.2 WAR), but hardly star-caliber. Of course, there were only eight regular rookie hitters to choose from, and just two pitchers, each of whom ranked below replacement level. It is easy to speculate that the cause of this was the demand for players caused by six new major league teams. This would not have nearly the impact it would today, as several of the AA teams were already respectable independent clubs, but certainly talent was not as available as it had been.

Finally, my choice of Jack Glasscock as MVP is predicated on his 24 Fielding Runs. On offense and position, I had him .5 WAR behind Dan Brouthers. So all I have to do is believe that he was around 5 runs better in the field relative to his position than Brouthers. Given Glasscock’s reputation and his perennial good standing in FR, I am more than willing to believe it.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

1882-1883 Introduction

In my long-neglected effort to apply sabermetric measures to the nineteenth century game while also providing a perfunctory history, I have chosen to treat the seasons of 1882 and 1883 together. In fact, the statistical methods that I have used here are for the most part the same as those that I used for 1876-1881. It is not until 1884 that I felt the need to delineate a new era, so to speak (and of course subject to disagreement).

However, I split these two seasons off on the historical level because for the first time, the National League has a competitor engaging it on similar terms. What I mean by this is that there had previously been independent professional clubs, some of which were similar in quality to some of the NL teams. However, until the American Association began play in 1882, there had not been another league that behaved in the way which we would expect a major league to today--setting a schedule centrally (or at least proscribing the number of games that should be played between each club), setting uniform playing rules, restricting membership, attempting to improve the position of the league as a whole rather than solely worrying about the affairs of one club, etc.

In 1884, the Union Association will emerge as another challenger (at least in the dreams of its backers), and I think that is another good place to draw a line. I also found that run estimation in the mid-to-late 1880s is trickier than in the 1876-1883--not any less accurate, in most cases, but only after applying different formulas to smaller groups of seasons.

So, the methodology for the 1882 and 1883 recaps will be much the same as for 1876-1881; see the links on the right side of the page for a refresher. The Base Runs method being used is:

A = H + W - HR + E + .08SH
B = (.726S + 1.948D + 3.134T + 1.694HR + .052W + .799E + .727SH + 1.165WP + 1.174PB - .05(AB - H - E))*1.087
C = AB - H - E + .92SH
D = HR

As I mentioned in the earlier piece, the inclusion of SH was an embarrassing mistake on my part, but it all washes out since the SH are just an estimate based on singles, walks, and estimated errors--it just shifts around the values of those a bit, in a way that made the formula slightly more accurate. But there really were no sacrifice hits at this stage of the game's development, and I knew that, and I flat out forgot it when working on the run estimator. Embarrassing.

I would also be remiss if I did not point out that the formula does not work as well for the AA teams as it does for the NL teams, so all of the results for the AA in 1882-83 should be taken with an extra grain of salt. Again, I cannot stress enough that all of the metrics should be looked at with a much more jaundiced eye than similar figures for recent times.

The formulas used for the NL are the same, except I used a custom error estimate each year. E = x(AB - H - K), and the value for x is .1277 in 1882 and .1409 in 1883.

The BsR formula generates these linear weights for the seasons. The first set is presented as S, D, T, HR, W, E, AB-H-E, SH, PB, WP. The second set is the one that is actually applied to players, where the coefficients for the categories we don’t have (SH, PB, and WP--we also don’t have errors of course, but have estimated those) are “folded” into the weights for singles, walks, outs, etc. So those weights are displayed as S, D, T, HR, W, E, AB-H-E:

1882: .549, .836, 1.114, 1.397, .391, .566, -.143, .080, .275, .273
1882: .583, .867, 1.145, 1.397, .425, .600, -.143
1883: .561, .845, 1.120, 1.393, .405, .578, -.150, .073, .273, .270
1883: .594, .876, 1.151, 1.393, .438, .611, -.150

For the American Association, I have used different estimates for WP and PB (but the same estimate for SH):
WP = .0449*(H + W - HR + E)
PB = .0836*(H + W - HR + E)

The AA did not track batter strikeouts, so errors must be estimated as a proportion of (AB-H). This proportion is .1323 for 1882 and .1269 for 1883.

And the linear weights for the AA:
1882: .549, .846, 1.134, 1.411, .386, .587, -.145, .084, .285, .283
1882: .587, .881, 1.169, 1.411, .423, .605, -.145
1883: .558, .851, 1.136, 1.407, .396, .575, -.149, .079, .282, .280
1883: .595, .886, 1.171, 1.407, .433, .612, -.149

For teams, I have decided to stop using PW% and producing an estimate for Runs Created Allowed. Those estimates weren’t particularly accurate, anyway, and it’s a hassle to come up with different formulas each season for estimating all of the missing data from the defensive perspective--opponent at bats, doubles, etc. If I felt that those categories were adding something substantial, I would go through the effort.

I have also marked "rookies" in pink--I used 100 PA or 50 IP in the majors (NA, NL, AA for this time period) as the cutoff points.

In the next installment I will begin the yearly review with the 1882 NL. The details of the NL/AA relationship will mostly be saved for the AA portion, but they may be hinted at in the NL installment.