Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Lingering questions from the 2018 MLB season

Here's a few more comments and ongoing questions about Major League Baseball that I wanted to post but didn't fit anywhere else. Just a few more weeks until spring training!

Inside: Pitch count superstitions, base coach evaluation, WAR in blowouts, and anecdotes of SafeCo.

When the pitch count exceeds 100, does a bus explode like in Speed?

Starting pitchers in the MLB seem to be getting fewer and fewer innings this year. The bullpens of the league, or at least the Blue Jays and Mariners, haven't been adjusted for the extra load, and the starters are still on a 5-day rotation. It's sort of an awkward time.

I don't mind seeing starters pulled early; if that's the better long term strategy then so be it. Pulling the starter exactly as close to 100 pitches as possible, as if that's some magic number instead of merely a nice round indicator, that's bordering on superstition. It wouldn't be so bothersome if it happened between innings more, but doing it between batters is just two extra minutes of non-baseball.

Base coaches, what are they good for?

Third-base coaches are pretty handy for baserunners, but can their effect be quantified with existing data? A third-base coaches is someone who stands near third base and watches the action in order to tell any baserunners whether to run or not based on that action in the outfield, which is often behind the runners. Having a coach direct them allows the runners to focus on running and executing slides without having to look behind themselves at the outfield situation. One major advantage of this is safety, but another is performance.

Without a coach, more runners would get caught at bases there were running, or bases they should have tagged up on after a catch. However, we don't know if some coaches are more effective than others, or even necessarily in which plays the coach made a measurable difference in the outcome.

Players, what are THEY good for?

To a fan, the value of a player is just how much he contributes to the team's win-loss record or rankings in the standings. To ownership, it's more complicated even if they say it isn't. To ownership, winning is the primary source of added revenue, but it isn't the only source. Owners don't reveal other, more nebulous, value sources, but they are worth guessing about.

If a player is a fan favourite, who sells lots of shirts and hats, and has a good reputations, how much does that factor into the player's monetary valuation?

If a veteran pitcher is providing guidance to rookies, how does that factor in? The rookies' valuations increase because they develop more than they would otherwise, but the source of that value was the veteran. Where this really becomes concrete is if those rookies are then traded to other teams for more value than they would otherwise be able fetch.

Is it really WAR when it's so one-sided?

One common criticism about the WAR (Wins Above Replacement) statistic is that it's context neutral. It has no clutch factor. Keith Law's Smart Baseball claims that clutch isn't a thing, but maybe he was looking in the wrong direction. Clutch ability might be the same as ability during ordinary situations, but what about blowouts?

For most estimations of WAR, every run of differential counts for the same amount. A win of 22-0 adds 22 times as much WAA (Wins Above Average, WAR plus a fixed constant) than a 5-4 win. Was that 22nd run really much of a reflection of performance as the game winner in the 5-4? It makes sense that the 22-0 game reflects more of a difference in the collective skill levels between the teams' players than the 5-4 game, but 22 times as much? Should events from a when a game is clearly lost or won count for as much ones with something at stake? I'd like to see some more context adjustment for this, like BABIP (strength of opposing fielding) and RISP (situations with runners on 2nd and/or 3rd base).

Why do did they call it SafeCo Field when so many accidents happen there?

Finally, is it just me, or is there something wrong with SafeCo field? Anecdotally, I've been there for 6 games and seen a few more on TV in the last 2 years, and the average number of errors by both teams is much more than I'm used to seeing at other stadiums. There are ready tables on places like baseball reference on the number of errors committed by each team, but not WHERE they committed them. Ideally, I want a 30x30 matrix of the number of games/errors/plays by each team at each field. With that we could see if there's something more error-prone about SafeCo field, or if I've just seen some unusual games and have confirmation bias.

Out of withdrawl, Chica has been looking for fly balls outside.

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