Games » Minnesota TwinsApr29
The Kansas City Star
Pitchers use three weapons to attack hitters: location, movement and velocity. Larry Vanover, the home-plate umpire for Sunday’s game, took one of those weapons — location — away from Royals starter Bruce Chen.
One of the theories about Chen is that he needs to have a loose strike zone to succeed. Vanover had a very tight zone and forced Bruce into the middle of that zone by calling borderline pitches balls. But give Vanover credit. He was consistent. He missed calls when Nate Adcock was pitching, too.
Actually, I saw Vanover’s tight zone help the Royals on occasion, Brayan Pena probably should have have been called out on strikes in the ninth inning a couple pitches before he was, but a tight zone probably hurts Chen more than other pitchers.
Speaking of Nate Adcock, what he did was a big deal. Nate saved the bullpen by throwing 5 and a third innings in relief. That might make difference in the upcoming series against the Tigers.
In the bottom of the second, Alex Gordon made another great diving catch. Last week, I asked Alex the key to making that kind of catch. He laughed and said, “A bad jump.” Actually, Alex said he tries to catch the ball off to the side, which allows him to watch the ball into the glove.
In the top of the third, Jarrod Dyson drove the ball to the warning track, but hitting the ball in the air is not what Dyson wants to do. He needs to hit the ball on the line or lower.
In this game, Dyson had trouble at the wall. He missed what looked to be catchable ball (easy for me to say) when he went up against the wall and missed it. Some outfielders can block out the pending collision with the wall, some can’t. I haven’t talked to Jarrod and haven’t seen him play the wall enough to know whether Sunday’s play was an aberration.
The Royals have been trying to jump-start their offense by giving hitters the green light to hit on a 3-0 count. That hasn’t worked at times, but it did Sunday in the fourth inning. Moustakas got a 3-0 green light, banged a ball into center field and got a hit and an RBI out of the deal.
Jeff Francoeur got thrown out at third base on the play, but there was one out, and that’s the time you push the envelope on getting to third. If you want to fault Frenchy for being overaggressive, do it over the fact that Twins center fielder Denard Span was left-handed and didn’t have to make a pivot to throw the ball, but it took a perfect throw to get Francoeur out, and most of the time that bet pays off.
Mike Moustakas made an error in the fifth inning while transferring the ball from his glove hand to his throwing hand. Moose sometimes has the tendency to flip the ball into his throwing hand, and that can backfire.
In the top of the sixth on a 3-1 count to Billy Butler, Twins catcher Joe Mauer tapped his glove on the ground, signaling for a ball down. The pitch was up, and Billy singled. As some of you have pointed out, Brayan Pena he doesn’t like to tap his glove on the ground as a signal to miss down. Other catchers use that signal.
What have you done for me lately?
Apparently, there now now Internet campaigns dedicated to getting Angels manager Mike Scoiscia and Twins manager Ron Gardenhire fired. These guys are considered two of the best managers in the game, but because of bad starts, some fans want them sacrificed.
But that’s nothing. Royals manager Ned Yost told me that when he coached for Atlanta every time the Braves went through a bad stretch, fans would call for the firing of Bobby Cox. A future Hall of Fame manager.
Firing Scioscia or Gardenhire would not make things better—they would make things very much worse, but as former Mets general manager Steve Phillips said, sometimes you fire the manager to “give the fans hope.” If a team has a problem and the responsible individual can be identified, by all means make a change. But firing someone who isn’t at fault—just so fans who don’t know much about baseball—can feel better doesn’t make much sense to me.
Here’s a fan who hopes baseball teams would be smarter than that.
A reader asked me a question; here’s the incredibly lengthy response
Part One: Question and Answer
Do I have any statistical evidence to back up my assertion that a fast runner on first base helps the batter at the plate? The reader wanted to know whether the Royals’ quantitative-research analysts had given me any information on the subject. The answer is no, but if they have that information, I don’t think they’d share it. Why let other teams know whether something is or isn’t working?
I could say that players, coaches and managers believe a base-stealer helps the hitter, but that is like saying everyone knows the world is flat — in 1491. I wouldn’t expect anyone who is into metrics to be overly impressed by that. I hope everyone who is into metrics returns the favor and does not expect me to be overly impressed by news of a study that “proves” a base-stealer does not help the hitter.
One of the studies the reader cited was from “Baseball Between the Numbers,” and the author was Jonah Keri. I have that book on my shelf, so I read the two articles by Jonah Keri, “What’s the Matter with RBI? … and Other Traditional Statistics” and “Is Wayne Huizenga a Genius?” Neither article had anything to do with base-stealing. Maybe there is an article in the 434-page book that deals with the subject, but if so, I didn’t find it Thursday night.
My skepticism about studies that “prove” something started early. When this website first came online, I was attacked for saying that Rick Ankiel could really go get a baseball. That was my opinion after watching Ankiel consistently start from shallow center field, get great jumps and smoothly catch balls on the warning track.
An outraged reader said the “range factor” numbers proved Mitch Maier was better. A little research proved that range factor (putouts and assists divided by the number of innings played) did not account for the fact that Ankiel had been playing center field for the Cardinals, a team with much better pitching than the Royals, and did not have the same opportunities as Maier.
I’ve learned to be skeptical of defensive metrics that don’t factor in where a fielder starts. Or systems that allow an observer to “eyeball” the type of ball put in play and the sector it wound up in. Or a study that proved the Royals were playing Eric Hosmer out of position, but apparently—it’s what I was told—didn’t factor in the “no-doubles” defense that had him positioned on the line. Or another study, concerning relievers, that didn’t factor in the human element and reactions to pressure.
All of these metrics tell you something, but they don’t tell you everything. In one way or another, all these metrics leave something out. (Of course, you can say the same thing about the “eyeball” test. So it’s good to remember that both approaches tell you something, but not everything.)
But back to the question: If I have no statistics to back up my belief that a base-stealer helps the hitter, why believe it?
Let’s start with what we know. We know it takes longer to deliver a breaking pitch to home plate than a fastball. I timed a pitcher the other night and he was getting his fastball to the plate in 1.2 seconds (you can’t run on that), and he got his off-speed stuff to the plate in just under 1.5 seconds (you can run on that).
We know that teams look for breaking-ball counts to run in. It seems logical to conclude that the pitcher will be encouraged to throw more fastballs. Many catchers have been accused of calling too many fastballs when a fast runner is on base. When Yogi Berra was brought into work with then-Yankees catcher Jose Posada, that was one of his first criticisms. Posada called for too many fastballs in an effort to throw out runners.
We know that a pitcher who uses a slide step tends to lose velocity and movement (not every pitcher, but most of them). And we know the slide step can cause the ball to stay up in the zone. I was told that Royals pitcher Luke Hochevar had trouble throwing strikes out of a slide step and would often fall behind in the count. We know that’s not good.
I haven’t counted how many big hits I’ve seen since I began paying attention to a pitcher’s delivery times and compared them with the hitter’s average when the pitcher isn’t in a slide step, but I’ve seen a lot of big hits when the pitcher is trying to be quick to the plate.
We know that varying rhythm and release points is difficult for a pitcher. Royals first-base coach Doug Sisson urged me to watch the quality of the pitch after three consecutive pickoff attempts. Once again, I haven’t counted them, but I’ve seen an awful lot of bad pitches in that situation.
I could go on (I think I already have) and talk about defensive positioning and catchers rushing throws, which screws up their framing, but if you’re not convinced, that’s OK. Let’s leave it at this. I — and a lot of ballplayers — believe that a base-stealer helps the hitter. While I haven’t conducted a study, the evidence I have seen supports this belief. Until I see a study that makes sense to me and disproves that notion, I will go on believing it. Feel free to disagree.
Part Two: Subjectivity
I had my math buddy (I try to have a friend in every area of expertise so I don’t have to know anything myself) Mike Keefe look at some advanced metrics and tell me what he thought. Mike is a political cartoonist and won the Pulitzer Prize last year (which I’m kinda P.O.’d about). He also has a math background (a dissertation short of a doctorate) and taught statistics and probability at the college level.
What Mike said was interesting. The models he looked at resulted in a scientific-looking number, but he cautioned me that there still was subjectivity involved. Even math requires variables. Deciding what variables are included is subjective. Deciding how to weight those variables is also subjective. The more variables a model includes, the more chance there is for inaccuracy.
Mike said he would trust simple models — batting average, on-base percentage — more than complicated models. And to truly understand the complicated models, it helps to have a background in statistical correlation and regression analysis. (I don’t, and I suspect that a great many people who quote these studies don’t either. And if you’re quoting studies you don’t understand, then you’re doing the same thing I am: trusting the expertise of others.)
It seems clear that when I talk to the people who do have educational backgrounds in this area, looking at one number and deciding a player’s worth — or lack of it — is a mistake. It’s all part of a larger picture … and that picture is, to some degree, subjective.
Part Three: There are only so many hours in a day
The reader who asked the question seems to be a nice guy who is genuinely interested in the answer. He does not seem dogmatic or out to score points to prove his intellectual superiority. I think he, and many other readers, are truly interested in understanding baseball, and many of them do so through metrics.
But I don’t always have time to do this.
I can write short responses to specific questions, but writing term papers in response to statistical studies is awfully time-consuming. When the Royals are in town, I’m putting in 18-hour days on a regular basis. When this site started, I tried to give an individual response to each reader, but the site is growing (thanks for that) and it’s proving impossible to keep up that practice.
There are individuals who want to conduct lengthy arguments over things they read here. In one sense, that’s fair. I’ve made a statement, shouldn’t I back it up? In another sense, it is like going to Oklahoma Joe’s for lunch every day (which actually sounds like an excellent idea) and wanting to have a lengthy argument about why they’re not serving Chinese food.
It ain’t what they do.
Some readers have expressed frustration that I do not see baseball from their points of view and want to know why sabermetrics can’t be part of this site. What would be the point? There are plenty of sites that already take that point of view. There is no shortage of blogs that think Royals general manager Dayton Moore is an idiot and Yuniesky Betancourt ought to be playing in a softball league. From the very beginning, the point of this site was to bring fans the player’s points of view.
If what the players and coaches have to say interests you, great. I can help with that. But doing so takes up most of my day. I spend hours on the field trying to develop an understanding of the philosophies and strategies that make ballplayers, coaches and managers do what they do. Then I try to dissect the game using what I have learned from the participants.
I don’t fault anyone for seeing things from another point of view, and I enjoy the fact that what I have written often starts a debate among the readers. Please keep doing that. Feel free to call me a moron (it wouldn’t be the first time), but it’s become impossible for me to respond to every comment or engage in lengthy exchanges over statistical studies. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have that debate. I’m saying I don’t always have time to join in.
And I realize what I just said about not always having time to engage in lengthy debates probably will set off a lengthy debate. Good luck with that.