Friday, November 20, 2009

Something To Read Over The Weekend

The work week is winding down, but there's one thing you should probably do before you attempt to sneak out of the office early. Print off a copy of the new e-Ticket over at by Patrick Hruby. It's 12,000 words and once printed out turns into a healthy 16 pages of prime weekend reading material. Use the company's printer and save your eyes from reading it off your computer screen. Heck, once you print it out, you can even take it places with you just like one of those "newspapers" they used to sell.

The article is about a Cambodian man who goes by the Americanized name "Joe Cook" and his efforts to bring baseball back to his home country. That's where the story starts, anyway.
Yes, I definitely thought this would be an elevating assortment of words, a triumph of the human spirit with lots of pretty prose and a bright, happy ending. Sports. Uplift. An emotional shot in the arm. Tonic for a world forever going wrong. But that was before this. Before I ventured halfway around the planet to drink from a half-empty glass of half-curdled joy, before I discovered that a tale too inspiring to be true -- Cambodian refugee escapes the Killing Fields, comes to America, takes hope and baseball back to his homeland (and yeah, someone already is filming a documentary) -- is probably too deranged to make up.
After you're done reading, there's an 11 or 12 minute video embedded in the article.

Woven into a story about baseball are the sad realities of power, greed, abuse, dishonesty and lust, all underpinned by poverty. If you've spent some time in the third world, the descriptions of what goes on in Cambodia will be less shocking, but it won't make them any less sad. The silver lining is that after this article, fewer people are going to hand over their money to "Joe Cook" thinking with the assumption he's using it for the development of baseball in Cambodia.

The writing is heavy on style but there's more than enough substance to go around. I'm not sure if "enjoy" is the right word, but it's a piece that's certainly worth reading.

More On Chapman

In a post yesterday I advocated against signing Aroldis Chapman mainly based on historical reasons and a risk vs. reward point of view. I didn't offer anything in the way of evaluating Chapman's skill set, mainly because very little is known about it - at least very little that is reliable.

Over at Baseball-Intellect, they have an outstanding, in depth look at Chapman. Maybe it's confirmation bias on my part, but I don't see anything in there that makes me more open to the prospect of inking Chapman to the type of deal he will command. He has control problems, has one good pitch and a couple so-so ones, and has a tendency to tip his pitches via arm slot.

At The Yankee Universe, they also have an open post on whether the Yankees should pursue Chapman. Most people weighing in are in favor of it, with the exception of one annoying commentor.

Lastly, via MLBTradeRumors, comes a few tidbits from Keith Law's Top 50 Free Agents. Law ranks another Cuban lefty, Noel Arguelles, as the tenth best option on the market. Arguelles is two years younger than Chapman, and Law speculates he could be had for around $8M. That's a risk I'd be far, far more inclined to assume.

That's it for me this week Fackers. College Football Saturday will be up in the morning.

WHIP, FIP & The WAR Against Wins

Good morning, Fackers. In the wake of the senior circuit Cy Young, like the AL version, being awarded to a pitcher not on the basis of his won-lost record but on the quality and number of his innings pitched, we're again going to disagree with the well-respected Tyler Kepner.

As Matt pointed out on Wednesday, Kepner noted that Zack Greinke acknowledged FIP in his post-award conference call but was grasping at straws in an attempt to frame the knowledge of advanced statistics as a key component in Greinke's success. Last night, Kepner tried to connect what was said by Greinke (or more accurately, Brian Bannister) with Tim Lincecum's explanation of his approach and made the same conflation:
Obviously, there is no substitute for pure talent. But in Greinke, Bannister’s teammate, we are seeing what can happen when off-the-charts talent meets sophisticated understanding of numbers.

The same is true of Lincecum, to a degree. His stuff is filthy, but he said he was mainly concerned with how many walks-plus-hits he allows per inning – which was curious, in a way, because Dan Haren, Chris Carpenter and Javier Vazquez all had a better WHIP than Lincecum in the N.L. this season.
First, Lincecum's WHIP was a minuscule 1.05. Haren, Carpenter, and Vasquez? 1.00, 1.01, 1.03. That's a difference of one batter for every 20, 25 and 50 innings, respectively, which Lincecum easily erases with his superior strikeout ratio.

But more importantly, what if Lincecum had simply said that he was trying his best not to allow batters to reach base? It would have been dismissed as a typical cliche. On the offensive side of the ball, we frequently hear batters saying that they were "just trying to get on base" which is just a different way of saying that they were trying to improve their on base percentage.

In most cases, the goals in baseball are pretty obvious. If you are a batter, don't use up outs. If you are a pitcher, try to keep men off the basepaths, preferably via strikeout. There is still some wiggle room regarding the value of sacrifice hits and bunting, but there isn't a whole lot advanced statistics can teach players. Knowing about UZR isn't going to make someone a better defender. They already know they should be trying to field as many balls, as far away from them as possible.

The main function of the more advanced metrics that are steadily gaining in popularity such as WAR, wOBA, VORP, WPA, RE24, UZR, and FRAA is that they allow observers to more accurately compare players to one another. While players citing FIP and WHIP can only increase their popularity, which is certainly a positive thing, understanding them doesn't provide much in terms of strategical, on-field edge.

The real story emerging from the 2009 Cy Young voting is that the voters have begun to value better statistics and in turn, more objective analysis. Which is to say, they're not blindly picking the pitcher who had the most wins.

Kepner demonstrates this by comparing this year's voting to win-skewed results 1990 and 1998 (both of which illustrate the writer's old reliance on wins), but Dave Cameron over at FanGraphs sums it up best:
Congratulations to the members of the BBWAA, who have been willing to adapt as the game changes. They deserve recognition for being willing to accept the shift towards better analytical methods. And getting away from wins as a measure of the value of a pitcher is a big first step.
Of course, Adam Wainwright who left his last game of the season with a 6-1 lead in line for his 20th win still received the most first place votes in the NL. He only finished 10 points behind Lincecum, so maybe if his bullpen had held up, the aftermath of these awards would be slightly less celebratory.

Both Matt and I have taken turns raining on this parade, but I think it's likely that in hindsight, 2009 will be cited as the year that Advanced Stats won the war against Conventional Wisdom. However, I'm more inclined to think that this was the Battle of Saratoga. And considering Bill James penned the hardball version of the Declaration of Independence over 30 years ago, it's probably going to a while before we see any sort of Treaty of Paris.