# Moneyball & rating pitchers

Finally got around to reading moneyball while on vacation last week … the most interesting concept for me was the idea that pitchers should only be judged on walks, strikeouts and extra base hits allowed.

This guy, Voros McCraken, came up with some kind of formula to calculates those three factors … I don’t want to get into the math of it here because it’s kind of boring… though I do think it’s foolish to dismiss the computer/science/stats aspect of studying baseball …

In anycase, the core of this idea of rating pitchers is based on the notion that singles, just as ground ball outs and pop up outs, and ground ball errors and missed pop ups are essentially the same thing.

Generally, once a batter puts the ball in play, what happens next is out of the pitchers control.

Case in point … runner on first with one out… a ball gets through the infield to put two guys on. The next guy hits a homer. 3 runs against the pitcher. Bad inning by him, right?

Conversely, runners on first and second with one out… that ball that got through the infield is snagged by the third baseman. Double play. 0 runs. What a great job by the pitcher to get that ground ball double play, right?

Well … whose ever to say that the ground ball in the second situation was any less of a ball put into play than the ground ball in the first scenario that happened to find a hole.

this is obvious, I know, but…

In the current ERA-drive rating system, to give a pitcher credit for a grounder hit to the thirdbaseman for an out, and to then penalize the pitcher when the same ground ball is hit two feet to the side for a hit between third and short is NOT AN ACCURATE way to RATE a pitchers EFFECTIVENESS. This is not the most accurate way to judge a pitchers value.

OF COURE, a guy can hit a shot up the middle for a base hit that, to the viewer, is clearly an inditement on the pitcher’s effectiveness.

But the batter can also hit a screamer to the centerfielder that is caught… Yes, that’s obvious, we all know the dichotomy here …

THE POINT is, by the current way of evaluating pitchers statistically, the pitcher’s rating actually improves by giving up that line drive out.

So why not do away with rating base hits and outs all together.

This seemingly is a totally baskwards way of looking at it, and while I find it to be imperfect, I also find it to carry a lot of truth.

Do pitchers deserve credit for keeping guys off balance by changing speeds, pitching to their weakness, getting them to hit weak grounders?? ABSOLUTELY!!! And I pat myself on the bat everytime I make it happen.

But I also keep it in perspective when those same grounders find a hole, or the hitter rips it to the outfield for an out.

In the short run almost anything can happen when the ball is hit. In the long run, the more solidly hitters make contact, the more line drives they hit and the more deep drives they hit the worse a pitcher is going to do. The result is that ERA ends up being a pretty good indicator for pitchers. WHIP, etc. helps to define a pitcher’s capability but ERA is still the best indicator. IMO, the only time ERA is not a good indicator is when a pitcher is the type that gives up more runs most outings but is absolutely dominant when he is on. Nolan Ryan would be an example. He was able to throw a lot of shutouts and low scoring games when he was on but he also had a lot of games where he gave up a fair amount of runs due to the lack of control. The result was that he tended to win when he was on and lose when he was off and it really didn’t matter that much how his team did behind him making him only a little better than a .500 career pitcher despite a very good career ERA.

The one thing that none of these measures can do is measure the pitcher who is able to pitch better when he needs to and pitches well enough to win giving up 1 run when his team scores 2 and giving up 5 runs when his team scores 10, as opposed to the pitcher who gives up 5 runs when his team scores 2 and gives up 1 run when his team scores 10 and the pressure is off.

Good point about the ERA retainig relevance over a large sample…

But when you isolate one game to see how a pitcher performed, you really have to see the game to appreciate the pithcer … and that pretty much flies in the face of the A’s dismissing the value of a scout.

To me the guy is workin a gimmick for his book. Has previous ratings proven incorrect? Has baseball missed a “great” due to the era, K’s per and K’s to bb measures of the past? W/L is also a great indicator…Baseball usually doesn’t miss winners…

another excellent point … it’s safe to say that no pitching greats have been missed. Very true.

However, has the potential of some college pitchers been overlooked or discounted because they don’t have overtly dominant stats that are readily valued?

Have some guys been drafted lower than they should’ve been because their arms were undersold for not having blazing stuff and their statistics were not properly analyzed, therfore ballclubs never took them seriously?

Were some high draft picks foolishly wasted on a guy with a power arm but who’s statistical history shows an alarming amount of walks and extra base hits?

Sure, a scout can see a guy throw 90+ and guess that he has major league potential, but there are quite a few flamethrowers who stink it up in the bigs.

If Jamie Moyer of Tom Glavine were in college now, they might not even get sniff from a big league club — OR would they get attention because they’d still be absolutely toying with college hitters?

Maybe McCracken’s theory holds more weight when evaluating prospects?

What Billy Beane tries to avoid is letting his scouts fall pray to their own imaginations, falling in love with what the scout thinks he sees the guy turning into. Beane wants to develop a more efficient way of rating talent … I’m not saying he’s a genius or full of gimmicks, but it is a fresh way to look at things.

I’ve never liked the era concept, any more than I’ve liked seeing a guy on 1st after a swinging bunt or a broken bat blooper that falls in. I’ve never cared for batting averages as a sole indicator of hitting, either. Used to play with a guy that kept his own hitting stats … and it was all based on the kind of contact that he made. If he hit a seed that was caught, he graded it out very high … similarly, if he hit one off the end of the bat and reached base on a bleeder, he rated it very low. Tell you something else - the brief time I was in pro ball, I wasn’t fond of the way relievers treated the runners that they assumed … several made it very clear that they took more chances when it was someone else’s run out on base. Re : Jamie Moyer … puss throwers often get a look if they throw from the left side …

If Jamie Moyer of Tom Glavine were in college now, they might not even get sniff from a big league club — OR would they get attention because they’d still be absolutely toying with college hitters?
This is the reason that ML teams still do tryouts and don’t depend solely on “Ratings”, or “Stats” or anecdotal reports. Remember it’s all about money and jobs, if you don’t find the money you ain’t got a job. They look hi and low. If a guy has got it goin on somebody somewhere will find him. I find it amazing the lengths they will go to to ferret out the guys like Moyer.

I heard an interview with Don Mattingly where he goes over at bats with hitters, and they rate it on who won the at bat, did you win the at bat, or did the pitcher win the at bat.

The difference between a win and a loss being a squarely hit ball, regardless of if it was a hit or not.

Mattingly was telling hitters to be honest with themselves about their performance. Are you “hot” because of a cluster of bloop hits, or is your slump just a string of bad luck, hitting shots that are caught…

I think this way somewhat as well … did I beat the batter or did he beat me … regardless of how it looks in the box score.

I wonder at times if Maddux, Moyer, et al would dominate against college hitters at their current velocities. One of the reasons they do well against ML hitters is that those guys are locked into significantly higher velocities and only rarely see someone throwing as slowly as Maddux or Moyer. Even the best college teams face pitchers throwing those kinds of speeds fairly regularly. Add the aluminum bat to the equation and I’m not sure Maddux or Moyer would dominate in the college game.

Of course when they were college age Maddux and Moyer threw pretty hard, were most likely already fairly polished pitchers and they probably would have dominated.

As far as hitters go I think they need to keep track of their average when the bloopers are falling and keep track of solid contact when they aren’t. Confidence is everything in hitting and I’ve seen bloopers and seeing eye grounders get a hitters confidence up resulting in solid shots and a hitting streak.

jdfromfla,
Remember, Maddux and Moyer got their chances because they were hard throwers who could pitch. They probably never would have gotten a chance throwing at 85 to 86 max and working 82 to 84. A power pitcher who has proven he can win in the bigs will be given a chance to become a finesse pitcher, a person starting their career as a finesse pitcher will very rarely be given a chance to prove he can win at higher levels. On rare occassions a finesse pitcher will be given a shot at the minors to fill a roster spot and somehow work his way up the ladder against the odds but it is extremely rare. One thing to note is that the low 90s guy who loses 6 mph off his fastball as he gets older is throwing mid 80s while the mid 80s guy who loses 6 mph with age is now throwing 79 or 80. The fact is when they do those tryouts they are looking for live arms and not for polished pitchers. When I played for a rookie league team (These were semi pro teams sponsored by MLB teams and not minor league teams. They were similar to the scout teams of today except they had more of a mix including current single A players in the off season and often having released AA players trying to get another shot as well as the typical HS players. Only current MLB players were ineligible to play. One time they turned away one of the Alou brothers from playing against us.) in the 70’s they’d bring us the live arms from the tryout camps to see them in game situations. I got plenty of opportunities to clean up their messes but the only thing the scouts were interested in were velocity and movement and they weren’t shy about telling us so. BTW, the only reason I got my chance to pitch even down at that level is because they got me mixed up with a harder thrower from my school who eventually was a 4th round pick. One time they brought two of the Lachemann brothers in to look at us and it was pretty clear that if you weren’t throwing hard they weren’t interested. My first pen for them I pitched and they absolutely ignored me while their attention was riveted on a harder thrower who had no concept of the strike zone. I learned my lesson and during my second pen I just threw as hard as I could and they at least showed some faint interest.

CADAd you’ll not get an argument from me on the issue of what scouts look for. Live arm and movement.
As the Unofficial Headmaster of the Unautherized School of Maddux I will say this, Greg has rarely pitched faster than 90, he did that only in his first couple of seasons, but and I will re-iterate but…he had this brother, his name was Mike, who is now the pitching coach of the Brew Crew and Mike threw consistantly harder than Greg, he just couldn’t carry little brothers cleats when it came to pitching. By-product of having an already drafted and vetted brother is that you can be a mph or 2 slower than what the scouts are lookin at (An NBA sorta like is/was the Wilkens brothers, Dominique and Gerald only the roles were reversed), as to the possibility of success against current college folks I completely disagree, the sinker in combo with his change of speeds, along with the fact that he so thouroughly knows/studies the batters he faces means that it don’t matter what they hold in their hands he’s gonna be successful .
No my point was simply that baseball scouting is at a point where if you have dominance you will get “someone” to look, shoot I have had 4 or 5 college (D-1) coaches (pitching and Head) tell me that they are very indifferent to stats except as re-inforcement, that eye-ball is what they care about (Radar-gun, how they handle tough situations, (The term you made me familiar with) projectability (How many times do you hear the questions…how big is his dad/brother and how big are his feet?), I agree with your point about those guys who can’t get it to the “magic” speeds of 93-95 being “trapped” at lower levels.
I used to be so amazed at the ability my son has to strike folks out, right up until a pro told me that this ability was more a reflection of his competition than an indicator of ability, it is his great fortune that he can also bring considerable heat so he was looked at by D-1 scouts as a sophmore.
Andrew has a great thread here and it’s been a fun discussion.
I hope CAson keeps gettin better…
jd

I think what McCracken and Beane and all those guys are trying to get a run-around is the fact that ball clubs trust the eye-ball too much. That many pompous scouts get too fat and comfortable in their jobs and get to thinking they know what they are projecting with their own eyes and imaginations — when, really, it’s just a guess. The effect is that a high rate of incompetance is scouting.

But you could also say, well, the high rate of incompetance – these many re-occuring instances of scouts being wrong on a prospect – is simply because you have to be just that good to make it, and so few will ever be just that good to make it … in other words, the odds are so steep against anyone panning out as a decent major leaguer that of course a lot of highly touted prospects will flame out.

jd,
As to the current college folks you are probably right but it sure would be interesting to see what would happen.

CASon’s PT went well last night including some light weight work with the triceps that had caused pain last week and went fine this week and he reports his back was a bit better today, Thanks.

Even if he gets healthy I doubt he’ll be throwing hard enough as a sophmore to get D1 schools looking at him. My hope is that he gets healthy enough to get in some JV innings as a pitcher and can get his arm up to full strength by the end of the season.

The league has one freshman who should have some scouts interested by his sophmore season. I understand the kid was maxing out in the low to mid 80s over the summer at 14. He was maxing out low 80s against us in a tournament last Thanksgiving. He’s been on the national stage 2 out of the last 3 years with the LLWS and PONY WS but hasn’t done the showcase bit yet as far as I know. Their school also has a high 80s, low 90s senior but I think the freshman knows more about pitching.

Boy you can bet I’d be there watchin…
Really that is the essence of true pitching isn’t it…how to over come the edge…dog fight, battle battle battle…oh god how I love this game and the people who play it like it means something

How does walks, strikeouts, and singles evaluate a guys potential, I think its a great evaluative system but I still think potential is something that needs to be taken into perspective as well.

You guys will be mentioned in our prayers.
Best of luck.
The scouts were from the Citidel and Jacksonville University, they were at our game looking at the successor to Tim Tebo, and Mr Bringdeheat got to pick up an inning and 2 thirds of trash time at the end of the game, he k’ed 4 of the heart of the number 4 team in the states order…layed em out. After the game this guy who had been gunning the starter for Nease came up to us as we were walking off and just couldn’t say enough encouraging things and wanted to know his name age etc, this was the guy from the Citidel, the guy from JU sought me out while he was pitching wanted to know what grade, what were his grades and if he was working with anyone, found out that he works with Rick Wilkens (Subsequently called Rick). Was an wild night…don’t think me or the kid slept that night.