Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tigers 25 Man Roster is Set

The Tigers finalized their opening day roster this morning by optioning Clete Thomas to Toledo. Don Kelly wins the 25th spot on the roster largely due to the need for a backup third baseman with Brandon Inge still not 100% after knee surgery. Here is the 25 man roster:


Starting pitchers

Justin Verlander
Rick Porcello
Max Scherzer
Jeremy Bonderman
Dontrelle Willis

Relievers

Jose Valverde
Joel Zumaya
Ryan Perry
Phil Coke
Fu-Te Ni
Eddie Bonine
Brad Thomas

Catchers

Gerald Laird
Alex Avila

Infielders

Miguel Cabrera
Scott Sizemore
Adam Everett
Brandon Inge
Ramon Santiago
Don Kelly

Outfielders

Johnny Damon
Austin Jackson
Magglio Ordonez
Carlos Guillen
Ryan Raburn

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Nate Robertson Traded to Marlins

The Tigers have traded Nate Robertson to the Marlins for minor league pitcher Jay Voss and cash considerations. Voss, a 22-year-old southpaw, was the Marlins' 8th round pick in the 2007 draft. He pitched a combined 49 2/3 innings at Single-A Jupiter and Double-A Jacksonville last year posting a 2.72 ERA, 46/18 K/BB ratio and 52.5 GB%.

The trade means that Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis will round out the rotation. Eddie Bonine would probably be the first replacement if either fails. For the time being, Bonine will pitch out of the bullpen. The final staff looks like this:

Verlander
Porcello
Scherzer
Bonderman
Willis

Valverde
Zumaya
Perry
Coke
Ni
Bonine
Thomas

More Reviews of Beyond Batting Average

My book Beyond Batting Average was reviewed in three places the last few days. First, it was reviewed by Steve Slowinski at DRays Bay. Steve is also the creator of The increasingly popular Sabermetrics Library, so his very positive review was encouraging:

Lee's writing is clear and concise, but also quite engaging for a topic that can sometimes get quite nerdy and dull. If you're looking to learn more about sabermetrics and want a book to start you off on the right foot, this is a great book to look into. And even if you already know a good deal about sabermetrics, it's a really handy reference tool. I consider myself well versed in baseball statistics, but I learned a decent bit from the book and I'm sure that I'll be referring to it whenever I have questions over the course of the season. Thanks Lee, this is a keeper.

The book was also reviewed by John Harris at The Sports PhD and Brad Berreman at Seamheads. All of the reviewers so far have agreed that it is a good book for those who are new to sabermetrics and are looking to get a better understanding of it. That was my intention. As a reminder, these are the book purchasing options:

Paperback book ($14.00 + shipping)

Electronic Version ($7.00 no shipping)

Here is what people are saying about the book:

Tom Tango (The Book Blog)

If you are a non-mathy guy, but want to understand sabermetrics better, then a huge thumbs up for this book. If you are pretty much comfortable with sabermetrics, but still not there yet (you haven’t run any of your own studies), then a regular thumbs up.

Steve Slowinski (DRays Bay)

Lee's writing is clear and concise, but also quite engaging for a topic that can sometimes get quite nerdy and dull. If you're looking to learn more about sabermetrics and want a book to start you off on the right foot, this is a great book to look into. And even if you already know a good deal about sabermetrics, it's a really handy reference tool. I consider myself well versed in baseball statistics, but I learned a decent bit from the book and I'm sure that I'll be referring to it whenever I have questions over the course of the season. Thanks Lee, this is a keeper.

Paul Wezner (TigsTown)

Beyond Batting Average gets the TigsTown stamp of approval, and a recommended read for all of you baseball fans out there yearning to learn more about sabermetrics, no matter your skill level.

Justin Inaz (Beyond The BoxScore):

Lee Panas published a terrific sabermetric primer. It's extremely current, with great scope, and will be an awesome resource for those interested in learning more about sabermetrics--especially player valuation statistics. I'm linking to Tango's review of it, but you can find the book on Lulu. If I do my baseball class again next year, I'll probably assign Lee's book.

Brad Berreman (SeamHeads)

Beyond Batting Average is written in an easy to digest format, and even has some funny and interesting illustrations sprinkled in. Mr.Panas uses multiple examples to help the reader apply the various formulas and understand how the advanced metrics are calculated. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and I think any baseball fan that is interested in learning more about new baseball statistics but has been intimidated by the scope of them would agree.

John Harris (The Sports PhD)

Overall, Panas wrote a short and accessible introduction to sabermetric statistics. If you want to learn more about the most advanced statistics on the market right now, it is tough to find a better source.

Bert (MotownSports)

I got your book today and it's fabulous. Your clear and patient style, your ability to put yourself in the shoes of the average fan to take them further, and your systematic approach are just what I was looking for.

David Berri (Wages of Wins Journal)

if you are interested in learning more about the wonderful world of baseball statistics, I highly recommend this book.

U.S. Patriot (Walk Like A Sabermerician)

Lee's straightforward approach and knowledge will make it a good resource for those who are just getting into sabermetrics.

Jon (Camden Depot Blog)

I rarely review a book, but this is one that I think merited that. It is a solid addition to anyone's library. The introductory baseball statistics reader who wants to learn more and be able to start engaging in conversations about metrics would find this most useful.

Kurt (Bless You Boys)

With his book, Lee gives the reader a step-by-step guide through how stats were developed and how to best apply them.

Tigers Trim Roster to 27

The Tigers optioned infielder Brent Dlugach to Toledo and reassigned Josh Rainwater, Robbie Weinhardt, Robinson Diaz and Jeff Larish to minor league camp this morning. They now have just two cuts to go to get down to their opening day 25 man roster.

Clete Thomas and Don Kelly are in competiton for the final positional spot. Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson are battling for two rotation slots. The loser could go to the bullpen, be traded or be released. If either is dropped from the team, then lefty Brad Thomas would make the roster. With the reassignment of Diaz, Alex Avila has made the team as the back-up catcher.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Community Playing Time Forecasts

Tom Tango is looking for fans to help with forecasting playing time for 2010. It is important to get human input regarding playing time because computers are not very good at projecting playing time. The forecasting systems are pretty good at determining what a player will do if he plays X number of games but not so good at determining X.

You can fill out your ballot for the Tigers (or any other team) here:

http://www.tangotiger.net/survey/

Leyland Hints at Opening Day Roster

With the Tigers going to Milwaukee to play two exhibition games on Friday and Saturday, Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski need to make their final decisions on which 25 players will head north by Thursday. Leyland gave some not so subtle hints the last couple of days. First, he made it pretty clear that Joel Zumaya will be in the Tigers bullpen despite his battles with command much of the spring:

On Saturday, in regard to reliever Joel Zumaya striking out the side against the Yankees in Lakeland, he said, “If you have guys like that and if they don’t make the team, you’ve got a hell of a team.”

And, no, Leyland said, he did not have to see Zumaya pitch consecutive days and maintain a healthy arm to take him.

He also discussed the outcome of the battle for the 25th roster spot:
“It’s not hard to figure out,” Leyland said. “I’ll give you one hint: ‘If Larish could play center field, his chances would be better.’ “
That tells me that it's going to be someone who is both a corner infielder and a center fielder. That eliminates both Larish and Clete Thomas, so it has to be Don Kelly. With Brandon Inge still not 100% after knee surgery, it's important that they have a reliable back-up at third base.

They also need to decide between Alex Avila and Robinson Diaz as back up catcher. The Tigers need offense, so I'm confident it will be Avila. I also think he will play fairly frequently - a couple games per week maybe.

So, the position players should shake out as follows.

Starting Line-up:

Austin Jackson CF
Johnny Damon LF
Magglio Ordonez RF
Miguel Cabrera 1B
Carlos Guillen DH
Brandon Inge 3B
Scott Sizemore 2B
Gerald Laird C
Adam Everett SS

(He may flip flop Sizemore and Laird)

Bench:

Ryan Raburn CF
Alex Avila C
Ramon Santiago IF
Don Kelly IF-OF

The final pitching staff is less certain. Jon Morosi said yesterday that the Tigers are shopping Nate Robertson. Obviously, the Tigers would have to eat most of his salary to make that happen and I'm not convinced they can pull it off. I don't think they will just release him because he has had a good spring and Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis are not exactly rock solid fourth and fifth starters. Until a move is made, I'm going to assume that all three will kept on the roster.

This is how the pitching staff looks to me:

Starters:

Justin Verlander
Rick Porcello
Max Scherzer
Jeremy Bonderman
Dontrelle Willis

Relievers:

Jose Valverde
Ryan Perry
Joel Zumaya
Phil Coke
Fu-Te Ni
Eddie Bonine
Nate Robertson

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Seay and Miner to DL, More Cuts

With a little over a week to go before the season starts, the Tigers made a bunch of moves this morning. The biggest news is that Bobby Seay has been placed on the disabled list with a torn rotator cuff. He is opting against surgery and will try to rehab it instead. I suspect he's out for the season though. Seay was expected to be their left-handed set-up man, so this a is a significant loss. Phil Coke and Fu-Te Ni are now the top two southpaws in the bullpen.

The Tigers also placed Zach Miner on the disabled list with elbow tendinitis. They then optioned pitcher Dan Schlereth and outfielder Wilkin Ramirez to Toledo and reassigned pitchers Phil Dumatrait and Enrique Gonzalez and catcher Max St. Pierre to minor league camp. The moves leave the Tigers with 32 players remaining in major league camp, so they have seven more cuts to go before opening day.

One of the moves will be a catcher, either Alex Avila or Robinson Diaz. I believe they will not only keep Avila, but he will get significant playing time as Gerald Laird's backup. Laird seems to wear down if he plays too much so they would benefit from having a backup that can catch two games per week. By the end of the season, we may see Avila playing as much as or more than Laird.

The rest of the bench will consist of Ramon Santiago, Ryan Raburn, and one other player. Jim Leyland said recently that the battle for the final spot is between Donald Kelly, Clete Thomas and Jeff Larish. I am betting on the versatile Kelly winning that role. Infielder Brent Dlugach will almost sure be cut.

They also have to trim three pitchers from the roster before opening day. The news that the Tigers are trying to trade Nate Robertson suggests that Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis will be the numbers four and five starters to open the season. It's very questionable whether any team will take Robertson off the Tigers hands, so if he doesn't make the team, they'll probably need to release him. It's possible that he could be retained as a long reliever, but that's a role against which he protested in the past.

The bullpen will consist of Jose Velarde, Ryan Perry, Coke, Ni, and three others. One of them will probably be Eddie Bonine, who would replace Miner as the team's long reliever and spot starter. One would think that Joel Zumaya would make the team, but with all the talk of his command issues, there is a chance they will send him to Toledo for a few weeks to get more work. Other pitchers on the bubble include Brad Thomas, Josh Rainwater, and Robbie Weinhardt.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Willis and Bonderman Battling for Rotation Spot

The Tigers have two games today - one versus the Blue Jays at Lakeland at 1:00 and another versus the Nationals at Viera at 7:00 tonight. The first game will feature Dontrelle Willis, who has been surprisingly good this spring. We've heard mixed reports on his velocity but his command has been better this spring. It couldn't get much worse. He's still walking too many - 5 batters in 11 innings - but he doesn't appear to have Steve Blass disease at the moment. He has an excellent 0.82 ERA so far. It would be good see what he could do stretched out over five innings.

Jeremy Bonderman has not been consistently sharp this spring. He's had a couple of decent games, one not so good one and a horrible game where he couldn't get out of the first inning. He has a 2.19 WHIP in 8 2/3 innings thus far. His velocity is coming back but he'll probably never throw mid nineties again. So, he'll have to be more of a pitcher. His annual search for a new pitch has led him to a split finger pitch this year. Jim Leyland said he needs to learn it this time because he no longer has the stuff to get by on two pitches.

It's not a lock but it looks like Nate Roberston (14 k in 14 2/3 innings) will make the starting rotation. Bonderman and Willis appear to be in competition for the fifth spot but Eddie Bonine can not be ruled out either. I'm still betting on Bonderman but Willis is gaining with each outing. With Bobby Seay and Zach Miner likely headed for the DL to start the season, there are spots open in the bullpen. Those who don't make the rotation could take those slots.

There is still much to be decided with less than two weeks to go. Today's performances could help shape those decisions.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Blue Jays Sign Tom Tango

The Toronto Blue Jays have signed analyst Tom Tango as an adviser to the team. Tango previously worked for the Seattle Mariners, as well as some National Hockey League teams. Tango needs no introduction to followers of sabermetrics. He is co-author of The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball. and also owns the The Book Blog - an Internet think tank for sabermetrics.

A programmer/analyst by trade, Tango has been applying his skills to baseball for the past several years while maintaining his full time job outside of baseball. Tango is not only expert at math and programming but has a great understanding of how it fits into the big picture of baseball. Wayne Winston, author of Mathletics, sums up it nicely:

"There's nobody better than (Tango) in the world...He's a genius. He knows everything about baseball. I think he'll help (the Jays) a lot to make better decisions."
Tango is the inventor of wOBA, FIP and many of the other new statistics being used today. He has also made big contributions to others in their baseball research and analysis. He seems to have a hand in everything sabermetric on the Internet. Personally, he helped me a lot in the writing of my book Beyond Batting Average.

Last year, the Mariners improved by 24 games largely by improving their defense. I'm not sure how much Tango had to do with that (he won't take credit for it) but I'm sure he had a lot of input. Now, he'll take his talents to the Blue Jays organization.

Tigers Cut Six More Players

After trimming four players from their roster last night, the Tigers made some more moves this morning. They optioned pitcher Alfredo Figaro to Triple-A Toledo and assigned pitchers Cody Satterwhite and Andy Oliver, catcher Mike Rabelo, and infielders Kory Casto and Gustavo Nunez to minor league camp. That leaves the Tigers with 39 players left in camp. So, they have 14 more cuts to go. There were no surprises among today's moves, although I wouldn't be surprised to see Satterwhite in Detroit at some point this year.

Tigers Assign Four to Minors

According to Tom Gage, the Tigers optioned infielder Audi Ciriaco to Double-A Erie and outfielders Brennan Boesch, Ryan Strieby and Casper Wells to Triple-A Toledo tonight. Where players get optioned in the spring is not necessarily where they start the season but Boesch, Strieby, and Wells could put on a good power show in Toledo this year. They combined for one homer per 14 at bats at Erie last year. Another thing to watch is how well Strieby can make the transition from first base to outfield.

Strieby has the most offensive upside of the four players assigned to the minors but Wells may be closest to the majors. At the beginning of spring training, some thought that he had an outside chance to make the 25-man roster as a backup outfielder if Austin Jackson struggled. Wells had 12 hits in 28 at bats plus 5 extra base hits this spring. However, Jackson has been outstanding both offensively and defensively and will be the every day center fielder. Backup outfielders Ryan Raburn and Clete Thomas have also had strong springs.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Galarraga Optioned to Toledo

Update: As Ron mentioned in the comments, Jay Sborz has also been optioned to the minors. MLB.com confirms it.

TigsTown is reporting that the Tigers optioned Armando Galarraga to Toledo this morning. It wasn't expected that he would get optioned but I didn't think he would be one of the early cuts of the spring. I figured he'd be one of the last players trimmed from the roster before the team went north. Jacob Turner is going to West Michigan which is not surprising. I suspect that these two moves are part of a round of cuts that will be officially announced later.

With Galarraga out of the picture, that reduces the competition for the #4 and #5 spots in the rotation. Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson appear to be the front runners with Dontrelle Willis and Eddie Bonine still possibilities. Bonine only went one inning yesterday which is not typical for a potential starter but it is not known how many pitches he might have thrown on the side.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Reviews of Beyond Batting Average

My book Beyond Batting Average is starting to get some publicity. It was reviewed by a couple more respected writers in the past week. Last week, Justin Inaz at (Beyond The BoxScore) discussed it in a column of sabermetric resources. He liked it enough to mention that he might use it in teaching his college sabermetrics course.

Yesterday, Paul Wezner at TigsTown reviewed it. He started out by discussing the divide between traditionalists and sabers. He then said that my book would help reach out to fans who are new to sabermetrics and trying to get a handle on it:
Beyond Batting Average is the first book I’ve read that works to reach out to those fans and explain not only the way the statistics are calculated, but the value behind them.
I've had a good number of people tell me they haven't bought the book yet but plan to purchase soon so here is a reminder of the options:

Paperback book ($14.00 + shipping)

Electronic Version ($7.00 no shipping)

You can get a 10% discount by typing "IDES" where they ask you for the coupon code.

Here is what people are saying about the book:

Tom Tango (The Book Blog)

If you are a non-mathy guy, but want to understand sabermetrics better, then a huge thumbs up for this book. If you are pretty much comfortable with sabermetrics, but still not there yet (you haven’t run any of your own studies), then a regular thumbs up.

Paul Wezner (TigsTown)

Beyond Batting Average gets the TigsTown stamp of approval, and a recommended read for all of you baseball fans out there yearning to learn more about sabermetrics, no matter your skill level.

Justin Inaz (Beyond The BoxScore):

Lee Panas published a terrific sabermetric primer. It's extremely current, with great scope, and will be an awesome resource for those interested in learning more about sabermetrics--especially player valuation statistics. I'm linking to Tango's review of it, but you can find the book on Lulu. If I do my baseball class again next year, I'll probably assign Lee's book.

Bert at MotownSports:

I got your book today and it's fabulous. Your clear and patient style, your ability to put yourself in the shoes of the average fan to take them further, and your systematic approach are just what I was looking for.

David Berri at Wages of Wins Journal:

if you are interested in learning more about the wonderful world of baseball statistics, I highly recommend this book.

U.S. Patriot at Walk Like A Sabermerician:

Lee's straightforward approach and knowledge will make it a good resource for those who are just getting into sabermetrics.

Jon at Camden Depot Blog:

I rarely review a book, but this is one that I think merited that. It is a solid addition to anyone's library. The introductory baseball statistics reader who wants to learn more and be able to start engaging in conversations about metrics would find this most useful.

Kurt at Bless You Boys:

With his book, Lee gives the reader a step-by-step guide through how stats were developed and how to best apply them.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Some Stat Resources

There are a couple of interesting new statistical resources which I wanted to bring to your attention. The Sabermetrics Library put together by Steve Slowinski, who also writes for DRays Bay, is not really that new but still definitely worth mentioning again. It is a compilation of some of the best articles on sabermetrics on the net. The links are all conveniently organized so you don't have to go on a long frustrating google search.

It's an excellent resource for those who are new to sabermetrics or trying to get a better handle on it. It also serves as a refresher for those who already have a good understanding of advanced metrics. He even has an online course on sabermetrics and it's all free.

Next is the National Pastime Almanac developed by Ron Gudykunst. He describes it as a
Baseball Encyclopedia with statistics, streaks, rankings, records, awards, etc. from 1876 through 2009, regular and post season. It is completely free. It allows to you to compile all kinds of lists such as:

Tigers Total Bases Leaders from 2000-2009

Brandon Inge 1,505
Carlos Guillen 1,1292
Curtis Granderson 1,247
Magglio Ordonez 1,246
Bobby Higginson 1,096
Placido Polanco 1,082
Ivan Rodriguez 1,069
Craig Monroe 1,058

Most Wins in a Season for Tigers Pitchers 21 and Under

Mark Fidrych 1976 19
Denny McClain 1965 16
Dave Rozema 1977 15
Art Houtteman 1949 15
Rick Porcello 2009 14

I'll play around with this more later.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Good Pitching for Tigers Today

The Tigers played two games today - one at Lakeland versus the Yankees and the other at Port St. Lucie versus the Mets. They beat the Yankees 6-2 behind the unlikely trio of Dontrelle Willis, Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson. Willis, who has been surprisingly decent this spring, pitched three innings allowing just one run and most importantly just one walk. Jeremy Bonderman followed with three innings one run ball with no walks. Nate Robertson then pitched two perfect innings including three strikeouts.

It was a good day for three pitchers battling for spots in the rotation. I believe that Bonderman and Robertson are still the favorites to win the four and five spots but Willis is keeping himself in the pitcher with three pretty good outings so far. The question remains how well he will respond to real games. He looked OK at times last spring as well but has had two miserable seasons since joining the Tigers.

The Tigers lost to the Mets 9-1 with all nine runs coming in the seventh inning. Prior to that, Max Scherzer had his first good start of the spring pitching four shutout innings and striking out five. There was no reason to be concerned about Scherzer's first two starts but it was still nice to see a positive outing from him today. Last year's second round draft pick Andy Oliver was also sharp today throwing two shutout innings.

The bad news was that Ryan Perry, who has been touted as a possible set up man, was shelled for seven runs (five earned) in two thirds of an inning. Zach Miner continued to pitch poorly today allowing two runs in an inning and a third.

Friday, March 12, 2010

One Spring Statistic that Matters

Most of us know that spring training statistics are not very meaningful. Every spring there is a young player who bats .375 in 40 at bats. When the season starts, he is either in Triple-A or struggling to hit hit major league breaking pitches. Every spring, there is a veteran pitcher with an ERA of 7.50. Once the real games begin though, he pitches seven strong innings in the season opener.

Spring training numbers are generally unimportant for a few reasons. First, they are based on small sample sizes. We've all seen weaker hitters get off to strong starts for the first three weeks of the regular season, only to crash to earth by the middle of May. Players can go hot and cold in spring training as well.

Spring performance is especially tricky because the competition is weaker. There are a lot of players used in spring training games, such as career minor leaguers and rookies not yet ready for the majors, who will not be playing once the season starts. It's a lot easier to pile up hits against minor league pitchers than against major lerague pitchers every night.

Finally, players are not always playing to win in spring training. A pitcher may be working on a new pitch or delivery. A batter might be trying a new stance or a different approach. Veteran players, already guaranteed a roster spot, might simply be going through the motions just trying to stay in shape while avoiding injury.

So, it's easy to see why most spring numbers are generally meaningless. However, John Dewan, owner of Baseball Info Solutions, did a study on spring statistics a few years ago and concluded that one statistic does have some meaning:

A hitter with a positive difference between his spring training slugging percentage and his lifetime slugging percentage of .200 or more correlates to a better than normal season.

So, if a player has a .400 career slugging average during the regular season and he is slugging .650 during spring training, you might expect him to slug significantly higher than his usual .400. in the coming season. There is no correlation for other statistics such as batting average, on-base average and ERA.

Dewan says that at least 35 spring training at bats are required for his theory to have meaning.
Nobody has 35 at bats yet but if, in a couple of weeks, Magglio Ordonez is still slugging .929 and Don Kelly is at .882, it might be worth noting. We'll visit this again later.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Tigers make first spring cuts

The Tigers assigned catchers John Murrian and Eric Roof to minor league camp this morning. This is not a surprising move at all and says nothing about the future of either player. Every team brings extra catchers to spring training each year to catch bullpen sessions for the many pitchers in camp. They are often the first to be reassigned once pitching staffs begin to get sorted out. The move leaves 51 players in the major league camp including the 40 man roster and 11 spring training invitees.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference - Part 2

This is a continuation of yesterday's post discussing the baseball portion of the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Some more notes on the discussion are below:

Differences Between Teams in Use of Statistical Analysis

The most interesting part of the discussion for me was the revelation that some teams are lagging far behind others in their use of statistics. Dewan, in particular, emphasized the variation between teams in their understanding of sabermetrics. He also claims there is a correlation between the level of understanding of statistics and success on the field. Naturally, the team representatives would not mention any other teams by name but the entire panel grinned when one of the attendees questioned them about the Royals. Someone else asked about the Pirates but Neyer responded that they actually do have a good handle on analytics.

Abbamondi (Cardinals) and Rehman (Diamondbacks) felt that statistical analysis gave them an advantage over other teams. Abbamondi went so far to say that he was concerned that new technology such as field f/x would level the playing field because it would make it easier for less sabermetric teams to use the data. He feels that the fact that fielding data is currently so difficult to process makes it easier for his team stay ahead of others who are not as good at teasing out the data.

The panelists felt that teams, in general, have gotten better at merging scouting with analytics. However, further education is needed. All teams have access to data now but some need to be learn how they use it better. For example, sometimes people new to sabermetrics are too eager to make conclusions on small sample sizes. Rehman suggested that sometimes people will try to slice the data too thin when using pitch f/x in particular. It's very important that statical staffs of teams not only know how to use the data but can present results clearly to those who are uncomfortable with math.

Intangibles

When Neyer asked panelists to give them one unknown that they wanted to know more about both Abbamondi and Rehman mentioned intangibles - work ethic, desire, etc. They admitted that teams are still not very good at determining which players have the best make-up. There is no good way to determine which players will respond to advertising, temptation to take drugs, etc. They both suggested that a lot of scouts mistaken politeness for make-up. Determination of intangibles is a very difficult problem to solve. They did not dismiss the notion that analytics could somehow help them in this area.

Pitching

They talked about the many advances in the analysis of pitching over the years. Videos have allowed teams to study pitcher delivery and mechanics extensively. Biomechanical analysis has allowed doctors determine with pitchers are bigger injury risks and how to avoid some injuries. The new technology has led to new training and strengthening exercises and better instruction on pitcher deliveries.

Even with all the new advances though, pitchers are still unpredictable and injuries still plentiful. There are lots of different opinions on the best delivery and it's also important to get pitchers to be comfortable with new styles. One of the big problems is that the delivery which is best for a pitcher's health is not necessarily the one which allows him to be the most effective.

Duquette mentioned how teams need to understand differences between pitchers in order to determine the ideal pitch counts for individuals. Statistics and technology and been helpful in this area. Tippett reminded us that expanded playoffs have extended the season for many teams and that has an effect on pitcher management during the regular season. While it seems that workloads have decreased dramatically during the regular season, one can not forget the extra innings that pitchers pitch in post-season - very stressful innings.

Conference in General

My primary purpose for attending the conference was to watch the baseball analytics portion. However, I also attended some other sessions. The "What Geeks Don't Get: The Limits of Moneyball" was not at all smug as the title suggests. It was a very entertaining discussion highlighted by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, Indianapolis Colts President Bill Polian and ESPN columnist Bill Simmons.

One of The themes was that analytics don't work as well in football and basketball as they do in baseball becuase those sports are so team oriented. Polian suggested that analytics don't help on the fotball field. Quantifiable elements are secondary to personal and secondary data. However, he said that analytics are important in management decisions. The salary cap in football makes the identification of undervalued assets essential to success.

One Complaint

It was a good day with little to complain about but it was a bit crowded. It was so well attended that it was difficult to find seating. I hope that next year they find a bigger conference room for the baseball discussion.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference - Part 1

I got back from the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston a while ago. I almost didn't make it. I missed the exit and once you miss an exit or take a wrong turn in Boston, you can plan on being lost for the next half hour or so. I was looking for exit 20A. I went by exit 24. About 200 yards later, I saw exit 20 A but couldn't pull into the right lane in time. What happened to exits 23, 22 and 21? Boston is a great walking city and has excellent public transportation but driving there is not a good idea. And this is coming from someone who worked in the city for 13 years.

Anyway, I made it to the conference just in time to see the baseball analytics discussion. Analytics is the modern term for sabermetrics and seems to be getting used more and more. The panelists were:

John Abbamondi - Cardinals Assistant GM
John Dewan - Owner of Baseball Info Solutions
Dan Duquette - former Red Sox GM
Shiraz Rehman - Director of Baseball Operations for the Arizona Diamondbacks
Tom Tippett - Director of Baseball Information Services for the Boston Red Sox
Rob Neyer - ESPN.com writer

Much of what they talked about was not new to me or to many of you but it was interesting to hear it from a team perspective. I'm including some notes below on various topics.

Defense

They all agreed that defensive statistics have made great strides in recent years but also that there is more work to done. Dewan says that defensive statistics tell us about 60% of what we need to know about a player's defense. Additional factors must be taken into account. For example, how much of defense is due to good coaching rather than player skills? A player might be in good position to make plays more often than another player simply because his coaches are good at anticipating where balls will be hit. It could also be that teams that pay more attention to defensive data have their players positioned better. The new Field f/x cameras to be used at all MLB games this year should improve defensive evaluation.

Dewan talked about how team's got away from fielding a little bit during the high powered home run derby era. He repeated a theme that we've heard frequently lately - defensive players have become undervalued and some teams are taking advantage of it. They have replaced low average high OBP hitters as the new Moneyball players. He mentioned how the 2008 Tigers were built on hitting and had some players playing out position. They then added defense at a relatively low cost the following year. The Mariners and Rays used a similar approach in recent years.

This year, the Red Sox have added defense at the expense of offene. Tippett was quick to point out though that it wasn't a change in philosophy as was reported by the media. The Red Sox didn't suddenly discover that defense was important. There were just more opportunities to acquire defensive players at the right price compared to offensive players.

Projection

There was a general consensus that more needs to done in the area of projecting player performance. Tippett thinks that player projection work fairly well for hitters but that it's important to learn more about how to identify exceptions. Player projections are built off the performance of similar players in past seasons. However, there are always some players who don't fit a mold very well. How can we better identify these players?

Dewan estimates that the Red Sox have improved their team by 60 to 80 runs over the winter considering both offense and defensive. That, of course, assumes that players perform as expected. Rehman brought up the point that defensive statistics are harder to project than offensive statistics.

More later.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Beyond Batting Average Ranked in Top 50


I was surprised to see that my book Beyond Batting Average made the Lulu best seller list in the first week of sales. It's listed at #45. Part of that was just a boost from friends and colleagues but I'm still pleased to see it. So, thanks to everyone who has supported me so far. For those who have not purchased a book and would like to, you can get one at Lulu.com. There are two options:

Paperback book ($14.00 + shipping)

Electronic Version ($7.00 no shipping)

You can get a 10% discount by typing "IDES" where they ask you for the coupon code.


Here is what people are saying about the book:

Tom Tango:

If you are a non-mathy guy, but want to understand sabermetrics better, then a huge thumbs up for this book. If you are pretty much comfortable with sabermetrics, but still not there yet (you haven’t run any of your own studies), then a regular thumbs up.

Bert at MotownSports:

I got your book today and it's fabulous. Your clear and patient style, your ability to put yourself in the shoes of the average fan to take them further, and your systematic approach are just what I was looking for.

David Berri at Wages of Wins Journal:

if you are interested in learning more about the wonderful world of baseball statistics, I highly recommend this book.

Kurt at Bless You Boys:

With his book, Lee gives the reader a step-by-step guide through how stats were developed and how to best apply them.

Jon at Camden Depot Blog:

I rarely review a book, but this is one that I think merited that. It is a solid addition to anyone's library. The introductory baseball statistics reader who wants to learn more and be able to start engaging in conversations about metrics would find this most useful.

U.S. Patriot at Walk Like A Sabermerician:

Lee's straightforward approach and knowledge will make it a good resource for those who are just getting into sabermetrics.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Bonderman Sharp Today

What I believe to be the biggest story of the spring for the Tigers got off to a good start today -- Jeremy Bonderman pitched two scoreless innings and struckout three. He gave up a single and a walk to open the game but then retired the next six in a row. They seemed to have abbreviated Lynn Hennings' article but he wrote in an earlier version that Bonderman's fastball looked like the fastball of 2006-2007. He also said that Bonderman threw some split finger fastballs. There are no reports on his velocity as of yet.

The Tigers scored two runs in the ninth to top the Jays 7-6. Brent Dlugach started at shortstop and collected a single and a homer. Wilkin Ramirez and audy Ciriaco added two hits apiece. The complete box score can be found here.

The other piece of news of interest was that Scott Sizemore started and apparently felt no ill effects from his ankle injury. A broken ankle is a serious injury especially for a middle infielder so today was encouraging. The next test might be to see if he can play consecutive days without pain.

Key Tigers Pitchers Versus Blue Jays today

The Tigers opened up the spring by pounding Florida Southern College 13-1 yesterday. Today they will face their first major league opponent - the Toronto Blue Jays. Some key pitchers will be working for the Tigers today. Probable fourth starter Jeremy Bonderman will get the start. He'll be followed by two of the contestants for the fifth spot - Nate Robertson and Armando Galarraga.

Spring training performance doesn't mean too much for those who are guaranteed a spot on the team. However, it does mean something for pitchers coming off injuries or bad seasons. It will be interesting to see how hard Bonderman throws. He could throw mid 90s when healthy. He was throwing 91-92 MPH last September. It is also important that he shows command of his slider as he won't be an effective pitcher without it.

As for Robertson and Galarraga, my expectations are not too high. At this point, I'm hoping they can get the ball over the plate without giving up home runs. Robertson looked somewhat promising last September but has a long way to go. If they fail to show anything this spring, then I think Phil Coke might get a chance to start, although I think Jim Leyland would rather he stay in the bullpen.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The Voice of the Turtle

The Tigers are playing their first spring training game today so it's time for Ernie Harwell's voice of the turtle:

For, lo, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of the singing of birds is come,
And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.



The audio can be found here:

Voice of the Turtle

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