Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Five Very Nerdy Baseball Questions

As I begin the annual exercise in diminishing returns that is fantasy baseball prep, I'm ready to get in touch with my inner (OK, he's not that inner) nerd. And since we're now some 20 to 30 years into the statistical reformation of baseball, which means that Joe Morgan now knows what slugging percentage means, I can only up the ante and see if these metrics have been cranked up already. (Probably on some pay gomer service, of course. That's what the comments are for, really.)

5) Is there an optimal number of throws to first, and does stolen base percentage change after repeat throws to first?

This has always been one of the things that I'd pull if I was a manager and wanted to buy time for the reliever. Instead of having to trudge my weary self to the bump to talk to the arsonist that got me into this jam in the first place, I just signal to the catcher to keep throwing to first until the reliever is good and ready. Assuming that your pitcher and first baseman can successfully play catch (and if the throws to first are nice and soft enough to drive the opposing team's fans crazy, so much the better), you avoid any sense of the reliever not being ready, and you might even get an edge by taking some of the gas out of the speedster's legs.

Of course, if the numbers go the other way (i.e., more throws = higher percentage, maybe from the redemptive power of hate), then the pitcher and catcher are going to have *major* communication issues. Best to go through all of those signs again, Jorge.

4) Are offensive variances more predictable on the percentage of hits and fouls that just clear the fence, and do the same guys lead in this category year over year?

Take a look at Ichiro hit sometime (Ichiro, for all of the Red Sox and Yankee fans out there, plays for *Seattle* -- isn't it cute how other cities have teams and players, too?). He fouls off a tremendous number of pitches, but the vast majority of them are deflections off the bat, and hence sharp lines that always make the stands. He's a remarkably consistent hitter, and money in the bank as a fantasy player.

Now look at Alfonso Soriano. Every swing is for the downs, and he produces (at least to my memory of him during his time in Texas, when I saw a lot of him in games against my A's) a ton of pop ups, some of which would wind up getting collected for outs in the huge Oakland foul turf. And he seemed to be one of the most erratic offensive players from a year to year basis in the majors.

If we can measure people's batting average on balls in play, I suspect we can also measure this, really. And see if the same guys lead the league in pop ups from year to year.

3) Is there a consistent split among road pitching performances that follow attendance?

All road games are not created equal, really; a Tuesday night in Oakland in front of a few thousand souls is not the same, in any way, as a game against the same team on Friday night, in front of a full fireworks house. It would be interesting, not to mention a very nice point to know for those who still enjoy wagering on games, to know if there is a consistent difference, and what kind of opposing pitcher (young vs. experienced) feels it the most.

2) How much more likely is a player to get hurt if he plays second, short, or catcher?

We know that some positions rack up more injuries than others, and it's even been the historic reason why any number of stud hitters get moved later in their careers, since they just can't stay healthy in the middle positions. We've got a century of games played by position; we should know a better number than an anecdote.

1) What pitchers are the most likely to throw a first pitch strike?

As a fan, nothing galls more than the reliever who comes in during a rally and falls behind the hitter. It would be good to know who does and who doesn't have this problem. (Though, of course, they can quickly have another problem if it becomes none that the first pitch is always a get-ahead fastball...)


Steven Gomez said...

It's 11 pm PDT and I can't even begin to get into the gritty details, but I can help with a couple things.

5. You'll see some pitchers throw obnoxiously to 1st, but it's usually to work out their own jitters and/or contain a guy they think will run on them. Base swipers are used to it, though, and generally it doesn't affect their baserunning any more than usual. What does, beyond their own speed and instincts of course, is the pacing/monitoring of the pitcher, and the arm of the catcher.
4. Yeah, you'll see certain guys consistently post higher than normal infield fly rates. has batted ball numbers. One thing that's interesting to note is that some guys definitely post higher groundball AVG than others. The league average is around .240-.245, but guys like Ichiro tend to get more infield and bleeder hits.
3. Many teams get big crowds on Saturday and Sunday. MLB pitchers and hitters have long since conditioned themselves not to give a shit about the crowd, though. Late inning pressure situations, though... that's a different matter for some players.
2. Catchers definitely take a beating, but SS and 2B don't tend to get jacked up any more than 1B/3B or the OF.
1. I've got good news: This question's pretty easy to answer. Click the link and note the F-Strike% column. You can even look up different years.

DMtShooter said...

Much obliged, SG. But I still hold that, even if you've conditioned yourself to not care about the crowd, you are affected by the variance from small and passive to large and aggro, especially if you are a rook. Maybe it's just all the years that I spent watching the A's.

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