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If Willie Wilson had changed his approach as a hitter and went on to have a Hall of Fame career, what Hall of Famers would he be comparable to? His k/w ratio is terrible. His doubles totals are also very low. Would he have improved his k/w ratio or would they have overlooked that? Offhand I can't think of any hall of famers he would've been like.
Asked by: manhattanhi

Answered: 9/19/2020
 Perhaps "offhand" is not the way to approach the question?

 

More a comment than anything on the Willy Mo thing--I well remember the Sox getting him,  and watching him hammer a double off the monster,  it was like a cannon blast.  Tremendous bat-speed and strength there.  But he had about 11 homers where you'd have thought he'd easily have doubled that.  I get what you meant-his K W ratio was fugly.  
 
Another comparison here maybe-John Kruk vs. Glenallen Hill or Glenn Braggs.   Both Glenns were great athletes,  certainly,  neither was half the player the bag of spuds Kruk was.  Just goes to prove your point,  I think.    
 
Thanks!
Asked by: Manushfan

Answered: 9/19/2020
 Sure.  John Kruk's a good example.  

 

Bill, I apologize if this is too broad of a question, but it occurred to me that after a spending a long time as the preeminent "outsider" expert on baseball, you then got to spend a lot of time working inside a team. Once you got to work with the managers and players on a much more personal basis, was there anything you learned that made you say, "Whoa, I got this entirely wrong in the earlier part of my career"?
Asked by: TJNawrocki

Answered: 9/19/2020
 There are many things that look tremendously different from the inside.   I suppose I would have to write a book to explain them all, but, for example:
 
The number one thing that you learn, from working inside the game, is how many people contribute to a championship.  It's just an unimaginable number.  Scouts. . .and it doesn't really start with scouts, but somebody has to see the player, on behalf of the organization, and say that he could be really good.  There somebody else has to see him again, and confirm that or bat it down; before you draft a player you look at him 50 times and talk to 50 people who have known him and go into his house and meet his parents, and then you put all of that information together before you make a decision; probably 50 people involved in that process.   Then he goes to the minors; he's got a dozen minor league pitching coaches or batting coaches or whatever, minor league managers.  Trainers.  Spring training coaches.  Equipment managers.   The system doesn't work unless all of those people do their jobs. 
 
 
Then you have the people who sell tickets, the people who create business partnerships.  The GM, the 30 guys in the front office other than the scouts.  The previous GM, before the current one.   The people who take care of the field.   You can believe it or not, but the system will not work unless ALL of those people do their best to make it work.   And I've hardly scratched the surface.   The medical people. . .the doctors who perform the surgeries, the guy who knows what surgeon to go to for what surgery, the guy who drives them to their medical appointment and knows how to get them in there and out of there.   The nutritionist who tries to treat them about what to eat.  The people who know what exercise equipment to have.  
 
And it REALLY starts with the fathers.   The father who plays catch with his 3-year-old boy and coaches this boy's team.   The high school coach, the amateur baseball coach, the college coach.  They all DO SOMETHING that makes this possible.   A championship is the culmination of the work of thousands and thousands of people, and you cannot understand that, really, unless you see it happening.  
 
But this is why I make that point.  The players are sucking up a very large share of the money that the game generates, the money that is needed to run the team, run the organization.  Sportswriters, who do not see what is happening on the back fields and generally don't know anything about it almost universally, with one voice, insist that it is GREAT the players get so much of the money.   They are the product; they should get the money.   There's no game without them.   If they didn't get the money, the owners would just keep it.  This is their economic value.  
 
And ALL of that is just pure bullshit--but it LOOKS true from the standpoint of the sportswriter, who doesn't really have a clue what is going on.   It is bullshit that they are the product.  It is bullshit that there is no game without them; of course there is a game without them.   It is bullshit that if they didn't get the money, the owners would just keep it.  It is bullshit that that is their economic value; it is NOT their economic value.   None of that is true.   Rather, what has happened is that the players have established the political power, within the system, to consume the value that is created by the people who build the stadium, the people who maintain the stadium, the people who turn on the lights, the people who sell the tickets, the people who operate the scoreboard, the people who scout the players, the people who run the farm systems.   But those people are mostly invisible from the sportswriters' perspective.  

 

HeyBill: very interesting discussion on physical attributes vs mental attributes (or intelligence to get the most from your ability). Of course, it the player has both, he's a superstar. But could we identify those with a huge discrepancy of these skills? Maybe poor range vs high assists, very low caught steals but not a 'lot' of steals, longevity with few injuries, maybe its a multivariate problem that when we put enough data in we could carve out this skill... How would you choose the data for this study?
Asked by: FrankD

Answered: 9/19/2020
 The study as you have outlined it is overbroad.   It lacks focus.   What is it that you want to learn or hope to learn by doing this study?  

 

Your Freddie Freeman poll sent me to his BBr page.  He has the same person as most similar for all 9 seasons (Eddie Murray).  No question.
Asked by: 3for3

Answered: 9/19/2020
 Yeah, I saw that.  Different comps for each individual season, but the same player as best comp for the cumulative totals.  

 

I was looking at the record of Denny McLain, and wondered what you made of his career. By the age of 26, McLain of course had had an historic season in which he won both the AL MVP and Cy Young awards unanimously (and had his picture on the cover of Time Magazine), and followed this up with another Cy Young award in 1969. By the age of 26, McLain had won 114 games, compared with 75 by Tom Seaver (who also started young), 56 by Steve Carlton, and 19 by Bob Gibson. At this point, he seemed to be a dead certainty for Cooperstown. Then, of course, the wheels came off and he disintegrated. Was he ever as good as he seemed? Why did he fall apart- we know about the gambling and injuries, but was there more to his decline than this? How should he be assessed from 50+ years later?
Asked by: wdr1946

Answered: 9/19/2020
 Well. . .
 
(1) He was worked very hard, as a young pitcher, 
(2) His "historic" season was of course heavily aided by good fortune, and
(3) I don't really know how "unique" he is, from a historical perspective.  
 
Of course, every story is unique, every human is unique, on some level.  The story of a young pitcher being overworked and not taking care of himself and not behaving appropriately is, it would seem to me, not tremendously different than a lot of other stories.   Dwight Gooden, or Dean Chance or Dick Allen or Johnny ALlen or Wes Ferrell or Kirby Higbe. . . those are common elements to player's stories. 

 

In your discussion with tangotiger about the timeline adjustment: my suspicion is that it's still a hard problem, even with the "consistent" versus "inconsistent" timelines.  There are factors outside big changes to baseball that are big changes.  Most expansions have added 5% to the number of baseball jobs.  US birth rates by year, in the most extreme cases, have varied by more than that, and from 1945 to 1950, they changed by 25% total, so about 5% every year.  I'm not sure to what extent birth rates in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela track US birth rates, so the US demographics changes may smooth some things out, but I think start of the baby boom probably more than compensated for the late 1960s expansion.  
 
I wonder if the real solution for tracking timelines is more like something built on finding other tracers of talent -- I know you made a list a while back of characteristics of higher and lower quality leagues -- and quantifying them.
Asked by: tjmaccarone

Answered: 9/18/2020
You totally missed what I was trying to say, which is understandable since it is murky in my own head.   What I was trying to say doesn't have anything at all to do with the FACT of inconsistency in the timeline, therefore nothing at all to do with the causes of inconsistency in the timeline.   What I was talking about was the mathematical consequences of inconsistency in the timeline, related to the issue of disentangling aging issues from changes in the level of play over time.    It's not within 1,000 miles of what you are talking about.  

 

You asked if 1956 or 1955 was the year the Braves collapsed down the stretch.  The 1955 Braves finished 13.5 games out so I doubt that was the tear you were thinking of.  In ‘56, they were just 12-13 after Sept 2 when they had a two game lead.  They lost by a game.  They lost two close games in St. Louis on the final weekend, turning a one game lead into a second place finish as Brooklyn swept the Pirates.  Not a collapse, but certainly not a great finish, either.  They had been 39-19 from the all-star break to Sept 2 to fo from 2 games back to 2 games up.  
Asked by: evanecurb

Answered: 9/18/2020
 Thanks. It had to be '56, because I remember reading in an old Sport magazine about people calling for Fred Haney's scalp after they lost.   Charlie Grimm managed them in'55, got fired early in '56.  Fred Haney took over with the team 20-20, "managed" them into first place.  I think the finish looks worse if you choose different parameters to describe it.  

 

I've been catching up on some of the older articles here I missed when they first came out.  I'm interested in your rookie scores article from a few years ago (https://www.billjamesonline.com/rookie_scores/).  I'm curious about why speed scores matter so much -- pretty clearly they do.  As you noted, the system finds guys like Curt Flood before they've really done anything.  It also notably showed Barry Bonds as a better prospect than Ruben Sierra, who hit better and was 20 instead of 21, and I'm sure there are plenty of other places where it matters.  But is the value of speed that it reflects defensive value, offensive value, or that it's a tracer for overall athletic ability that the other stats might miss?  E.g. Bonds developed into a better hitter than Sierra, and that's separate from Bonds having defensive value in his mid-30s that Sierra didn't.  Is this commonly true of fast players, that they have a bit better chance to develop as hitters?
Asked by: tjmaccarone

Answered: 9/18/2020
I appreciate the question, appreciate your using the old stuff.  I should do more of that myself.  
 
 
 I don't know the article specifically, don't know whether it was written two years ago or 10. . .not sure about that.  I think the essential importance of speed IN THAT CONTEXT is that speed is a major determinant of the length of your opportunity line.   
 
If a player has limited speed, he has limited defensive opportunities.  Assume everybody loses speed over time, and assume that you have to run at least "7" to play center field, have to run at least a 6 to play the outfield.  If you start out as a 10, like Flood, then you have defensive value right away, which will sustain your effort to build a career, but equally important, if you stay healthy and don't have leg injuries, if you start out at 10 you'll still run a 7 when you're 35 years old.  
 
But if you start out as a 7, then when you're 35 you'll be running a 4, which means that you can no longer play the outfield.  You're a DH or a first baseman, which means that your career only survives if you can hit at a higher level, if you can hit for power.  
 
Perhaps the analogy I should have started with is "scaffold".   A scaffold is something that you construct to stand on while you build the building around you.   Speed is the scaffold of a career, I think. Don't know if that is right. . ..appreciate the thoughtful question.  

 

Not a question but a thank you to you and boutilij who posted thoughtful and useful answers to my baserunning question.  I would note that by searching through baseballreference after your comments, I found out that you can find out the baserunning stats for each team (at least back to 1970) as well, which let me compare Piniella's baserunning to his teammates.  My verdict is that while he certainly made his share of outs on the bases, he wasn't really an egregiously bad baserunner (at least that year) in relation to his teammates.  As a counterexample, the hyper-aggressive Hal McRae made 13 of the 64 OOB (outs on bases) of the 1979 Kansas City Royals or more than 20% of the team total.  
Asked by: bhalbleib

Answered: 9/18/2020
 Right; Hal would drive you crazy with his baserunning out.   I remember writing about it in an early Abstract.   Thanks.  

 

During the Mets-Phillies game the other day a runner was out on the bases in a manner that doesn't fit into any of the categories. Two outs, runners on second and third and the batter hits a slow roller down the third base line. The third basemen had no play at home or at first base but the runner on second (McNeil) just ran toward third and was easily tagged out. If McNeil had just stayed put or gotten himself into a rundown, the run would've scored. Not sure what you would call that.
Asked by: manhattanhi

Answered: 9/18/2020
 You call it a brain cramp.  One of the first years I worked with the Red Sox, we did a long study of our baserunning.  We sorted the outs made on the bases into something like six categories:  gambles that didn't work out, etc.    I remember one category was "that just happens".   You're off first base and the ball is lined to the first baseman and he catches the ball and steps on the bag; there is nothing you can do about it, it just happens.  I can't remember what we called plays like the one you described; obviously we had to find some non-insulting term.   The term may have been "bad baseball" or something.   Lack of situational awareness.  Unforced baserunning errors.  

 

Re. aging vs. timeline: I wonder if this could be an area where underlying skills measurements (fastball velocity and movement for pitchers, foot speed, bat speed, etc.) might be useful. In theory, these would not really be subject to timeline effects, right? But they correlate with outcomes (runs created or saved), which are subject to timeline effects.  
 
The immediate problems I can see here would be practical -- the lack of sufficient data in many of these "skills" categories (it just hasn't been tracked for very long), and also measurement issues (e.g., looking at fastball velocity across a pitcher's career could be affected by changes in radar gun technology over time). But in theory, I would think skills measurements might help untangle aging vs. timeline.
Asked by: Matthew Namee

Answered: 9/18/2020
Well, let me be the Devil's advocate here.   One of the things that makes scouting hard in baseball is that measurable skills often have little to do with success in baseball.   
 
With the Red Sox, we never had any player who had measurable skills the same as Wily Mo Pena.  Wily Mo was huge, all muscle, fantastically strong, could run extremely well, and could throw a baseball 100 miles an hour.  But he couldn't play baseball.  
 
In 2006 we traded Bronson Arroyo for Wily Mo. . ..an awful trade in retrospect.   It was a scout's trade.  Our scouts loved Wily Mo; ALL scouts loved Wily Mo.  I just saw Bronson being interviewed on NESN, and he talked about this exact point, not referencing Wily Mo but his own career.  He had a long career, won 150 games or something.  His explanation (paraphrasing) was, "it's become a max-effort game.  Everybody thinks that you have to pump up and throw 100.  But it is harder to throw strikes, and it puts strain on your body, and after a couple of years you have to have surgery.  I just did what my body was able to do, pitch at the speed that I could sustain.  That's what you do to have a long career."
 
Bronson was the opposite of Wily Mo, a guy WITHOUT apparent ability, but who could play baseball.   
 
Suppose that you segment "athletes" and "just baseball players" into ten levels.   If you have a bunch of Level-10 athletes with a Level-1 understanding of what Bronson was saying against a bunch of Level-1 athleetes with a Level-10 understanding, then obviously the Level-10 athletes will win.   A team of short, fat guys is not going to beat a team of Wily Mo Penas, no matter what.   
 
But suppose that you have a team of Level-10 athletes with Level-8 understanding against a team of Level-8 athletes with Level-10 understanding.  I would bet that the Level-8 athletes would crush them, over the course of a season.   
 
It seems to me that your point SEEMS true, looks true, because we think of athleticism on a scale that is relevant to ourselves.   Obviously, an athlete competing with someone like myself in any athletic endeavor, the athlete will win.   But if you start with 1,000 guys and take the 50 best athletes in the 1,000, it's a different thing.   
 
I'm not convinced that incremental gains in running speed or fastball velocity are going to lead to higher quality of competition, IF THEY ARE OPPOSED by backward steps in gut-level understanding of the game.  
 
The steroid era proves that gains in STRENGTH are certainly meaningful, among people who can play baseball anyway.   
 
I'm kind of losing my point here.   Dustin Pedroia was never an elite athlete, in a certain sense.  He was small, not particularly fast, didn't have a great arm.  He was the opposite of Wily Mo.   But he was smart, super-competitive, had great wrists, and he was willing to pay the price day in and day out.  One Dustin Pedroia is worth 100 Wily Mos.  I'm not sure you're going to be able to measure that.  It's nearly impossible to measure that on the level of the individual player.  To measure it on the level of the game as a whole would be another level of complexity beyond that.   
 

 

I've been thinking lately about the relative value of offense and defense in baseball. Looking at the Pythagorean win formula it strikes me that the relationship of runs scores and runs allowed to wins represented by the formula suggests that preventing runs is more valuable than scoring runs, but that the relationship isn't linear.  
 
I decided to run a really basic test just to see if my interpretation of the formula is true. An average team scores and allows 750 runs and wins 81 games. A team scoring 900 runs and allowing 750 should win 96, but a team scoring 750 and allowing 600 will win 99. So at +/- 150 runs, defense is 3 wins more valuable.  
 
I remember you wrote about this a little in the "Why 52?" section of Win Shares. Have you had any developments in your thoughts on how we can figure out how much more valuable defense is than offense in general?
Asked by: murrayj

Answered: 9/18/2020
 But there is a problem in your logic, which is this.   Your choice to start with an average team and measure the impact of a run going up from .500 is arbitrary and. . .I'm not sure what the scientific term is. . ."just not right."   Your outcome is determined by your starting point, and your starting point is arbitrary.   And your direction is arbitrary.   By the same logic, if you start out at average and get WORSE, then one run of offense has more impact than one run of defense.  

 

The test case for the common-opponent approach is WWII years.  You should see a drastic drop in talent, with a quick recovery.  But the main issue is as you pointed out, the magnitude, not the direction.  Because all these year to year changes will get "chained" together, you can make it that it's either been pretty stable or a huge increase in talent (as Cramer did in the 70s).  
 
What I would suggest, whether to you or the aspiring saberists out there, is to use this common-opponent approach to establish the relative strengths of AL v NL year to year.  That has alot less pitfalls.  I'm pretty sure Baseball Reference does that to assign WAR to each league each year.
Asked by: tangotiger

Answered: 9/18/2020
 I think the best evidence is that the decline in quality during World War II was comically overstated by contemporary writers.  Obviously, losing DiMaggio, Feller, Williams and Musial effected the quality of play.   I'm just not sure that "drastic" the best word there.  But thanks.  

 

I do agree you get into a tangled web, when trying to disentangle timeline from aging.  
 
One thing that I have had (some) success with is look at batters v pitchers of the same age year to year.  So, a pitcher and batter both born in 1966 (or born within 365 days of each other), tracking them year to year HEAD TO HEAD, and see how the results changed to establish a baseline for changes year to year.  Sorta similar to what you did pitcher to pitcher, but instead I do it as actual batter-pitcher matchups.  
Once that is establish, then see how the whole league did relative to that.  There are issues with it, some more obvious than others.  
 
All to say: you are not alone in your frustration in the "common opponent" approach.
Asked by: tangotiger

Answered: 9/17/2020
 Yeah. . .I had a sniff of an idea about that this morning, when I was walking my dog.  What the hell was it?  
 
Oh, I remember.  My idea was that perhaps you could unlock the problem by focusing first on INCONSISTENCIES in the age/time relationship.   In other words, suppose that you establish the normal rate of decline between ages 27 and 34, the normal rate of decline from 28 to 35, from 29 to 36, etc., and then look first to see whether that was the SAME from 1960 to 1967, from 1970 to 1977, from 1980 to 1987, from 1990 to 1997, etc.   If you find that the rate of decline is greater in one era than in another, that would suggest that. . .well, those studies have been done, and they involve the problem we have agreed exists.   I thought I had something new in there.   
 
I think that my idea was to focus not on the rate of decline by hitters nor on the rate of increase in the quality of play, but rather, on the INCONSISTENCIES in the variation between "consistent" and "inconsistent" periods.  For example, an expansion is an inconsistency; World War II is an inconsistency.   Comparing 1930 to 1937, you have a "consistent" basis for comparison; comparing 1937 to 1944, inconsistent, comparing 1944 to 1951, inconsistent, comparing 1951 to 1958, consistent, comparing 1958 to 1965, inconsistent, comparing 1965 to 1972, inconsistent, comparing 1972 to 1979, inconsistent, comparing 1979 to 1986, consistent, etc.   It may be that by approaching it in that way, you could gain understanding of the problem.   Just a hint or an idea there. . . .

 

 
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