Hey Bill

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In 2022, Batters are clearly struggling to hit. They are hitting .237/.308/.380 with 4.19 Runs Per game. The Pitchers are clearly ahead of hitters.  
Asked by: Taylor

Answered: 5/25/2022
 WERE struggling.  The first five weeks of the season runs were scarce.   Normal hiting the last two or three weeks.


What is the one thing Major League Baseball should do -- if anything -- about position players pitching in blowout games or to "save" a tired pitching staff?  
I personally cringe each time I see or read about a position player used on the mound (with, obviously, players like Ohtani or Lorenzen or the few others who can actually hurl in a credible fashion from the bump). I notice that is being done more and more over the past few years.
Asked by: wbinaz

Answered: 5/25/2022
 It is being done more and more.  It actually results from short-sightedness on the part of managers.   It's stupid to trap yourself in a position where you have to do that, but people pursue immediate payoffs without regard to what might possibly happen several innings down the road, and managers treat rest schedules for relievers as if they were Holy Writ; my God, I can't use this reliever two innings today after I pitched him an inning yesterday.   I don't like it, either, but you know. . . there are a lot of things I don't like. has a graph of height over time for NBA rookies that shows it being fairly constant (with yearly variation) since 1992 (though trending lighter and with a lower Body Mass Index (BMI) since 2002). Same site says that gymnasts have gotten "shorter, lighter and with a lower BMI". Overall, about 100 years ago, there was much less of a specific body type for each sport, just an athletic build. Now swimmers have longer torsos and shorter legs, marathoners are pencil thin, sprinters are muscular, etc. How many "ideal body types" do you think there are for baseball? Slugger, pitcher, catcher, and then everybody else?
Asked by: jimmyp

Answered: 5/25/2022
 The point about gymnasts is interesting.  
I was thinking of something vaguely related.   The NBA adopted the 3-point shot in 1979-1980, college basketball some time in the mid-1980s, but the full effect of this has only been realized within the last two or three years, and we don't know for sure if the full effect of it has hit yet, or may still be in the future.  I can remember when the three-point shot was being argued about, a basic argument was that this would give an advantage to a shorter, quicker player rather than a 7-foot behemoth, and also that it would draw the action away from the basket.   Both of those arguments proved to be true, and both proved to be MORE important than anyone expected, but what no one understood or anticipated was how long it would take for the full impact of the rules change to be felt.  
I was thinking of this in connection to the shift in baseball, and bunting to beat the shift.   Many people think "Why don't the just bunt, if the defense is going to give that to them", in which the problem is the word "just".  It makes it sound like anybody could do that any time, nothing to it; you just bunt.   But the reality is that if you're going to rely on bunting as a central part of your game in the major leagues, you need to spend 15 years developing that skill before you get to the majors--and that's not the end of the process.  Once bunting becomes a central skill again, then scouts will start looking for players who can bunt, and then that skill will come to be more refined and more refined.  It's not an immediate transition; it takes a few decades.   We're about 10 years into that in baseball, but we've got a long way to go.  


They don't come out as truly similar players, but, I always liked how Eddie Yost and Eddie Joost both had such high walk rates that created most of their value.  
Asked by: 3for3

Answered: 5/25/2022
 Yost especially.   Joost had an up-and-down, varied career in which he did a lot of things well at different times.  At times he was a first-rate defensive shortstop, and at times he hit for power.
Yost would have hit 20 homers a year in a different park.   He played in Griffith Park, by far the toughest home run park in baseball for most of his career.  The Park Home Run factor there was usually around 30, with every other American League team usually over 75.  In 1952, for example, the number was 32 in Washington, 91 or higher in every other American League Park. IN 1949 it was 27; every other American League Park, 82 or higher.  
Yost in 1949 hit 9 home runs on the road, none at all in Washington.   In 1950 it was one at home, 10 on the road; in 1951 it was 1 at home, 11 on the road.   In 1952 he hit none at all at home, 12 on the road, so there's a four-year period in which he hit 42 home runs on the road, but only two at home.  In 1953 it was 1 and 8; in 1955 none and 7.  You can see that Yost would have hit 20-25 homers a year in a normal park, 25-30 in a good home run park, which would have changed his perceived value.   But you are correct in saying that his value in in his walks, because you don't get value based on what you would have done in some other park. 


I'm sure I'm not the first, what would you do with the Aaron Judge situation? All I hear on ny sports radio is that his value as a Yankee is immeasurable, that whole mystique thing. But he is 30, injury-prone career and there is a guy in Washington that is 7 yrs younger. Seems to be an easy choice to let Judge walk, but there is so much emotional arguments by yankee fans for him to stay. big one is that they cant lose him to the mets.
Asked by: CoachLee

Answered: 5/25/2022
 I reallly have no idea.   The Red Sox are dealing with a similar thing, with Xander Bogaerts.   If it was my decision, I would fight to keep Bogaerts if we have to let half the team go to do it.  Judge. . . I don't know.   There's no Aaron Judge mystique to me.  To me, he's just this over-hyped guy, a good player and worth quite a bit of money, but nothing really special.  


Due to a rethinking of the center position and a few other factors, prepositional basketball players are smaller now than they were a decade ago. Is this unprecedented in history?  It feels like it would be…
Asked by: Michael P

Answered: 5/24/2022
 Unclear whether you think this is unprecedented in BASKETBALL history, in sports history, whatever.   If you mean basketball history, it seems like a reasonable guess.  If you mean all of sports history, I would guess there have probably been parallel events somewhere.  


Your point about first baseman assists in general is very valid, of course. I recall you pointing out one time that Bill Buckner would appear to be the first base equivalent to Brooks Robinson if you looked only at assists, since Buckner always insisted on tossing to the pitcher even if could make the put out himself.  But didn't you determine that assists by a first baseman to bases other than first is a very strong indicator of defensive ability, as is the number of double plays they start?
Asked by: pablo

Answered: 5/24/2022
Yes, but the data in that regard is almost impossible to assemble. 


HeyBill re: what it is vs what is isn't.  We measure something by 'what it is, not what it isn't'  because 'what it is' is a discrete fact and 'what it isn't' is really an infinity of things or possibilities. Do you agree?
Asked by: FrankD

Answered: 5/24/2022
 Either I agree, or I am just being irascible about it; I'm not sure which. 


Brooks Kieschnick had two years as a reliever — and homered seven times hitting .300 as a reliever/pinch hitter in 2003. His ERA was 5, but dropped the next year, and he hit .270. So it could be done, but seems like a Hail Mary for your 13th best hitter.
Asked by: abiggoof

Answered: 5/23/2022
 That's who I was thinking of.   Sure, it's a long shot, but. . .you never know.   Bob Lemon and Bucky Walters and Jack Harshman were a long time ago, I grant you, but. . .it's there if you can find the right guy and he wants to try it.  


Do you think players worry about their next contract and put pressure on themselves that affect their performance?  I'm thinking specifically about Juan Soto, who is really struggling so far this year.  People keep talking about how he's going to break the bank when he becomes a free agent and I'm wondering if this is possibly affecting him now.  (Although he still has two or three years to free agency.) I assume this would have more effect on a marginal player who is literally playing for his next job, but I wonder if it also affects top-level players.
Asked by: Marc Schneider

Answered: 5/23/2022
 I don't know Soto.   It's an individual thing; some people worry about it, some don't.  Xander Bogaerts in on the edge of a contract, but he's playing great.   He's always been that way; he's always been a confident player who just keeps playing, doesn't seem to worry about that.  I have NO idea whether that is what is going on with Soto or not, but I do know that you can't generalize about all players in that category.  


Bill: "It is just not a normal thing to evaluate an event both by what it IS and by what it therefore ISN'T."  
Isn't that why On-Base Pct. is almost twice as important as Slugging Pct.? It is getting on base and it isn't getting out. It is putting runners on and it isn't killing a rally.  
Asked by: hotstatrat / John Carter

Answered: 5/23/2022
 No, that is just bluntly untrue.  The importance of getting on base is that when you are on base you may score a run.   When you are out you will not score a run.   The fact that you haven't made an out is very much a secondary benefit, a small portion of the benefit, not, as you suggest, a primary contributor.    The importance of getting on base is that you are on base.  The importance of making an out is that you have used up 1/27th of a game without contributing much.   We don't--and shouldn't--measure the two things as if they were all the same.  


1st base isn't considered a premium defensive position, but I actually think it's the most important position on the infield after catcher, simply because of the number of chances they handle.  When the Mets switched from Jon Olerud to Mo Vaughan, the entire infield suffered. It was less of how the two first basemen fielded grounders than how they fielded throws. There was the ability to pick out bad throws in the dirt---soft hands---but there was also the wingspan of the target. It's a different sort of range factor, concerning the fielder's range on the bag, not off the bag. Keith Hernandez was the best fielding first baseman I ever saw, but there were throws which pulled the 6' tall Hernandez off the bag that the 6' 5" Olerud could reach.  
Do you know if teams keep track of a First Baseman's range factor on catches for putouts at first base?
Asked by: JackKeefe

Answered: 5/23/2022
 Teams don't keep track of it, but we do.  This site is functionally a part of Sports Info Solutions, which tracks any information like that that we can think of to track, and then sells the information to the teams.   So.. .yes, we know.   
Your point is a good one, and this is a significant analytical quandary, how to handle this.   To start with, first basemen are often sluggers because one CAN play first base even if you can't run and can't throw, so players who can't run and can't throw often wind up at first base.   Because that is true, the offensive numbers of first basemen are always high.   Analytical logic, related to the defensive spectrum, assumes or sometimes assumes that if the offensive contribution at a position is high, the defensive contribution at the position is low, and this is SOMETIMES very true; that is, there are many first basemen who make a very limited defensive contribution. 
Nonetheless, it IS true, I think, that the defensive delta at the position is enormous.   (We have been witnessing this day to day on the Red Sox, where Dalbec has been in a season-long slump, so Franchy Cordero has been playing half the time at first base.  They're trying to get Cordero to achieve the potential he has been wasting for five years, and making actually pretty good progress on that, but anyway, Dalbec once he gets a little experience will be Don Mattingly at first base, and Cordero is just God Awaful there, so all kinds of costly crap happens to the Red Sox when Cordero is at first base, and you always gnash your teeth and wish Dalbec would start hitting.)  
Anyway, it could be an overstatement that first base is defensively more important than, let us say, shortstop or third base; it could be an overstatement, and I think that it is.   But it is true that the defensive contribution of the first baseman is historically undervalued in analytic systems, and also true (b) that this is very hard to avoid, and (c) that the real defensive value of a first baseman is hard to measure.  
In Win Shares, I gave some credit defensively to the first basemen if the number of errors by shortstops and third basemen on the team was low.  But this honestly is as much desperation as anything; since the defensive values of first basemen are so hard to measure, I'll try anything to fill in the gap.  
The Pete Palmer system for rating defensive first baseman is just horrible, horrible, horrible, just absolutely and completely dysfunctional.  It relies heavily on ASSISTS by first basemen; since putouts by first basemen are 90%+ secondary plays initiated by someone else, Pete switched to assists.  But assists by first basemen are discretionary, since there are about 100 plays per season on which a first baseman can choose either to touch the base himself or to flip to the pitcher, thus getting an assist.  So there is basically no correlation at all between first base assists and first base defensive contribution.  


Rather a fanciful question. As more and more position players sop up innings in blowouts, how many scoreless innings do you think it would take by a position player (let’s say 86 mph fastball and a college curveball) to move from solely blowouts to low-leverage innings in 5+run games?
Asked by: Michael P

Answered: 5/23/2022
 I don't have an answer for you, but many position players were pitchers in college or part-time pitchers in college.  Dave McCarty, who was a backup first baseman on the Red Sox when I first got there, wanted to try to transition to a pitcher, and we would use him to pitch an inning or two when we were desperate.  You've always got SOMEBODY in your lineup who was a college pitcher; for the Red Sox now it is Bobby Dalbech, who I think was maybe a better college pitcher than hitter, not sure of that.  
It the player's career as a position player is going well, then it is not going to happen.   But if the player is struggling as a position player, then it might.  There was a guy, same era as McCarty, who DID move mostly to pitching, although he wasn't really successful.   What the heck was his name. . . seems like it was a K name.   


Hey Bill, the highest Similarity Score I've seen for players with long careers is Bob Welch and Orel Hershiser (974). I never thought of them as similar pitchers, but they were both drafted and brought up by the Dodgers and pitched there for many years, were rotation mates for five years in L.A., both joined tremendous American League teams and pitched in multiple World Series after leaving the Dodgers, both are remembered largely for one great season (their only Cy Young Award, for both men), both listed at exactly 6'3", 190 pounds. Is is really a remarkable list of similarities, do you suppose, or are our minds simply led to find similarities because of the random coincidence that their career statistics are practically identical?
Asked by: Zeth

Answered: 5/23/2022
 Well. . ..when you have one similarity, you look for others, and this is a common and appropriate intellectual approach.   Suppose that you have dated a girl from a small town in Missouri, and then by coincidence you meet another girl from the same small town in Missouri.  You WILL start to see similarities between the two girls; you will start to look for them and find them.   This is how the mind builds understandings; it finds commonalities and builds on them.  I believe that that is a universal and involuntary process.   
And it is appropriate.  Two girls from a small town in Missouri ARE likely to have some things in common, in having come from the same environment.   In baseball, two players who have high similarity scores are likely to have many other things in common, other than what is measured in the similarity test (and remember, when I use similarity scores, I don't use the values used by the Baseball Reference method, so I may not be referring to them.)  But let's say that you look for players similar to Tommie Agee, for example.  A player who is mathematically to Tommie Agee is more likely to be another center fielder than he is to be a first baseman or a shortstop or something, even if "center fielder" is not part of the similarity test.  He is more likely to have begun his career in the mid-sixties than in any other era.   Although we don't want to focus on that, he is more likely to be black than white, more likely to be relatively short than relatively tall, more likely to bat right-handed than left-handed, more likely to be from Alabama than from California, etc.   Similarities DO form clusters, and this fact creates both Bias and Understanding.   


Hey Bill, just a note to say it’s good fun listening in as you and Tango look under the hood. No matter how sophisticated all this stuff gets, it seems we’re never past the point of scratching our heads about essential features and wondering if they’re perhaps totally wrong. I wish these discussions happened in all sorts of fields.
Asked by: PB

Answered: 5/23/2022
 Thank you.  I appreciate the feedback. 


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