Posts tagged ‘Billy Beane’

You Too Can Be Billy Beane

As a baseball fan, you may have heard something about Bill James, Billy Beane, and/or Sabremetrics, but were afraid all the math was too difficult.  Well, you too can use simple numbers to out-manage most major league skippers.  For today's introduction, you only need one simple table of numbers:

RE 99-02 0 1 2
Empty 0.555 0.297 0.117
1st 0.953 0.573 0.251
2nd 1.189 0.725 0.344
3rd 1.482 0.983 0.387
1st_2nd 1.573 0.971 0.466
1st_3rd 1.904 1.243 0.538
2nd_3rd 2.052 1.467 0.634
Loaded 2.417 1.65 0.815

These are the run expectancy numbers, compiled from data in the 1999-2002 baseball season.  Here is how to read the table: With a runner on 2nd (row three) and two outs (column three) a team on average can expect to score .344 runs the rest of that inning.

So, to test your understanding, how much does a leadoff double increase a team's chance of scoring?  Well, the base run expectancy at the beginning of an inning is .555 runs.  After a leadoff double, you are in the square for man on second, still no outs, which has a run expectancy of 1.189.   On average, then, a leadoff double increases the scoring expectations for the inning by 0.634 runs, which is a lot.  So here are a few simple sabremetric type conclusions you can reach just from this data:

  • Outs are extraordinarily valuable.  For example, man on first and third with two outs has a WORSE run expectancy than you have at the beginning of the inning, ie it is worse than nobody on and no outs.
  • Bunting almost never makes sense.  Assume a runner on first, no outs -- a typical bunting situation.  After a succesful bunt, you have runner on second and one out.  Notice that this has REDUCED the run expectancy from 0.953 to 0.725.  The reason I say "almost" never is that an even worse outcome is a strikeout, which would take you to man on first and one out for a RE of .573.  For batters highly likely to strike out or pop up in the infield (think: pitchers) bunting can make sense.
  • You can actually calculate what percentage chance of success you need to justify stealing second.  Lets again take man on first, no outs.  The RE is 0.953.  If he steals successfully, the RE goes to 1.189.  If he gets thrown out, the RE goes to 0.297 (bases empty, one out).  If X is the probability of stealing success, then 1.189X+0.297(1-X)>0.953.  X must be about 74% or greater.

Exercise: You have two hitters.  Assume they always lead off an inning.  One hits .300 with all singles.  The other hits .258 but a third of his hits are doubles, the rest singles.  Which is more valuable (assuming they walk and strikeout at the same rate)

A (Partial) Defense of Larry Krueger

Larry Krueger, a radio personality for the San Francisco (baseball) Giants, recently ignited a firestorm by saying that he was frustrated by the Giants'

brain-dead Caribbean hitters hacking at slop nightly.

In response, Giants manager Felipe Alou has demanded Krueger's firing, asserting that this statement represents the worst sort of racism, and that he refused to accept Krueger's apology because "There's no way to
apologize for such a sin."

OK, at the risk that Krueger turns out to be a serial idiot with a long history of racism, I will deal with this statement solely on its face.  And in context, the reaction to his statement strikes me as extremely exaggerated.

Some background:  Typically, hitters can be thought of in two classes:

  1. Picky hitters, that sort through pitches like my wife shopping for vegetables, carefully picking out only the best to swing at, and gladly accepting walks when they come.  These hitters are often considered more "thoughtful" hitters
  2. Aggressive hitters, who swing more indiscriminately at pitches, and who often consider a walk to be a failed at-bat.  These hitters often described as "intuitive" or "natural" hitters, rather than thoughtful.

Some managers prefer the first type, some the second (for example, Miguel Tejada's being indiscriminate at the plate drove A's GM Billy Beane crazy, while other managers are happy to let him hack away for their team, given his huge numbers).  Which brings us back to the Caribbean.  What's interesting to me is that the Caribbean is not actually a race, but a location.  And in that location, it is very clear that hitters are schooled to be type #2 aggressive hitters.  Players in the Dominican Republic, Filipe Alou's home country by the way, have a saying:  "You don't walk off the island".  In other words, to get the attention of the US scouts and come to the majors from the Caribbean, a hitter is trained to be an aggressive type 2 player. They are taught that going down hacking is better than a walk.

In a sense, the Caribbean is a big (and very very successful) baseball school for training players to play in the US.  And it turns out that this "school" tends to teach players be more indiscriminate hackers at the plate.  Ask any manager in the majors if Caribbean hitters on average are less picky, more aggressive hitters at the plate and they will say "of course".

So, to some extent, Krueger is getting flamed for saying what everyone already knows.  Saying that Caribbean hitters can be indiscriminate hackers is like saying that PAC 10 quarterbacks tend to be more NFL-ready and polished than Big 12 quarterbacks -- its just a fact that is not always true, but is true on average given how they were trained.  Krueger's real mistake was probably using the term "brain dead", which can be a dangerous term when it has racial overtones, but in context probably refers to hitting style rather than absolute IQ.  I think Alou is reaching to say that Krueger was referring to Caribbean hitters poor English skills, but I will admit that he has more history with Krueger and may have reason to make this interpretation from past events.