Truth in numbers?

Posted: February 15, 2011 in AL East, Defense, Park Factor, Pitching, Rays, Sabermetrics

Over the past few weeks, we have heard the notion that numbers are indeed facts, and the only way to qualify an opinion is with data.  For example, Rich Lederer had suggested for years that Bert Blyleven is a Hall of fame pitcher.  He used numbers to make his case and in 2011 the voters finally heard the message and voted Blyleven into the Hall of Fame. The Hall of fame voters for years didn’t really take into account that Bert played most of his career on losing teams, and the statistics of our youth do not tell the whole story of what type of pitcher Blyleven was. 

The baseball we grew up on valued numbers. However, home runs and run batted in defined  how good a batter was. Similarly, a pitchers number of wins and his earned tun average indicated what kind of pitcher he was. Today, based on the work of Bill James we take more into account when evaluating a player and projecting his statistics for the upcoming year. We have learned that what type of defense the pitcher has backing him can weigh heavily on a pitchers numbers. This is due in a large part to work of  Voros McCracken and his Defense Independent Pitching Statistic system ( DIPS ):

His studies of pitching statistics suggest that major league pitchers do not differ greatly on their ability to prevent hits on balls in play. The rate at which a pitcher allows hits on balls in play has more to do with defense and luck than to his own skill, and can vary greatly from year to year.

With their propietary baseball metrics, the Rays are a part of the new Moneyball era as an organization that weighs heavily on the statistics . For example, in the 2010 playoffs, the numbers said to pitch James Shields in a crucial playoff game against the Rangers, even though the fans who had watched him pitched lately questioned the move. This goes to show you that sometimes the number crunching works out, sometimes it does not. This idea brings me to the recent work by Rays Country:

Statistics play a more prominent role in the analysis of baseball than any other sport in our country. They provide the historical background upon which modern-day achievements can be assessed in their proper context. They help determine the value of players. Employed fairly and without extraneous agendas, they are quite helpful in forming predictions of future events

The article brings up the notion that statistical analysis can be plenty good, but you must take into context there are a multitude of factors that affect the numbers:

But actual analysis and logical formations of expectations entail not only a measured use of statistics, but much deeper sources to additional information. A hitter’s ability to catch up to a David Price heater on a Sunday afternoon may be more predicated on what he did after Saturday night’s game. A batter’s chances of beating out a worm-killer may be affected by a hammie he’s nursing. A pitcher’s intense focus on each and every one of his pitches could be impacted by some personal issue. The point is, there are a myriad of factors that impact any given moment in a baseball game.

I do like statistics and the new age of thinking. But, I am in agreement on this passage from the article:

Rays Country authors are passionate fans who appreciate the incredible complexity of this magnificent game. Our analyses certainly employ statistics, but we believe it is of paramount importance for us to zealously research the internal validity of the numbers we cite and use reason when predicting outcomes.

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