Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Tippett is closer than McCracken, IMO

Unfortunately, I just spent 30 minutes typing up something before my Explorer (Internet, not Ford) crashed, so I will try to make this relatively quick. I don't have the time today to go through all the stats or find all the links, but I promise to do so soon and leave this post here as more of a placeholder and for commentary.

Sometimes a good theory gets buried because no one listens, and sometimes a flawed theory takes on a snowball effect and has everyone believing it because they want something new. I believe Voros McCraken's theory that pitchers have essentially no effect on what happens to a ball put in play, while inventive and forcing us to think and to realize that there is more randomness is the game than we would otherwise like to believe, falls more into that latter category.

[I don't know what is going on but blogger just erased a bunch of what I wrote when it posted, so I'll try to duplicate it AGAIN] I'm not one to believe something just because "it sounds right" in the face of evidence. So, if Voros's theory hold water with the evidence, then I am all for it no matter how "counter-intuitive." I just don't believe it does, at least in any extreme form. Tom Tippett's rebuttal appears to be much more sound, in my mind, and even McCracken, I believe, has slowly shied away from his theory, at least at the extremes and as a be-all and end-all.

Sure, I could be anecdotal and say that I don't understand how a well-placed liner into outfield can be equivalent to a slow roller to the pitcher. But there is a staring-in-your-face stat that, to me, just does not line up with McCracken's theory. And that is that batters have higher batting averages in batters' counts. It is an axiom and it is dramatic, and I do not believe that the difference in the numbers is entirely made up of strikeouts--something that is easy to check and I will. A batter does far better in a 3-0 or 3-1 count (when he is able to zone in on a particular pitch) than he does in an 0-2 count (when he is just trying to "get his bat on the ball").

Next, combine that with the statement that better pitchers get the batters into more pitchers' counts than batters' counts--remember Maddux's crazy year where he went 3-0 on something like 4 batters all year (that number is wrong, I'm sure, but it isn't far off, and I will find a link to it at some point soon)?

Well, I fail to see how that combination of truisms can peacefully coincide with McCraken's ideas. Better pitchers get into more pitchers' counts and therefore batters will have lower batting averages on balls put in play against them over a season. Can anyone point to evidence against that?

Like I said, I wish I had the time to really delve into the stats and put links to everything this morning, but my computer already crashed once and I have actual work to do. But I certainly would be interested in a discussion on this.


At 1:01 PM, Blogger Tom G. said...

I tend to agree with you, but I would point out that hitters probably have a lower BA on unfavorable counts because they end up striking out more. Maybe the thing to look at is BABIP on various counts?

Tom G

At 1:10 PM, Blogger John said...

I've definitely seen a study somewhere along the line demonstrating that there is a definite degree of "control" a pitcher has, but it's not all that strong, and roughly approximated by whether the pitcher tends to throw grounders or fly-outs. I *think* dERA may take that into account.

At 1:52 PM, Blogger Rob said...

See also Michael Lichtmann at BTF on this subject. I think, though, that too many people overemphasize the wrong things with both this article and the Tippett commentary. Pearson's r don't lie.

Also: this study from Sabernomics. I seem to recall another one over the last year at Hardball Times but for now I can't find it.

At 6:50 PM, Blogger tmk67 said...

I agree that Tippett's analysis is closer to the mark, certainly by the sheer volume of the research. But it seems to me that the key insight of McCraken has more value than the mythological or "snowball" effect you discuss.

In my view, a key purpose of sabermetrics is to give insight into the year-to-year predictions and decisions GMs make or should be making. In this, the insight is that the Three True Outcomes are the best predictors of a pitcher's future performance is far more important than Tippett's analysis. When deciding who to keep on a 40-man roster or who to sign as a free agent, I do not want the GM of my team to ignore low strikeout rates and think, "Well, it's possible I have another Jamie Moyer here."

Given all the other potential variables, in my view the Three True Outcomes is the best single best tool in predicting pitching.

I am curious about your analysis of batting averages and pitch counts, I hope Blogger lets you post it!


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