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Numbers Game

Posted By Emma Span On December 28, 2010 @ 7:31 pm In Baseball,Emma Span,Games We Play | Comments Disabled


Baseball never feels farther away than when you’re wading through three-foot snow drifts. I drove back to the city from upstate New York on Sunday and got home just as the roads started getting really adventurous. Yesterday, stuck and abandoned cars were all over the streets, and today everything is still eerie and off-kilter, if pretty sweet-looking. It’s hard to even imagine April.

Here’s something that helps, though: the 2011 Bill James Handbook, which my dad got me for Chrismukkah (he’s also the one who got me James’ Historical Baseball Abstract one fateful holiday when I was still in college). I don’t get as excited about the Handbook as I do about Baseball Prospectus every year – or as I would have for James’ yearly abstracts had I been old enough to read them at the time – simply because it is almost entirely tables and numbers, with very few essays and little analysis. It’s a very handy reference, though, and there are always some gems in there; and in a blizzard, in the early dark, at the tail end of the year, you take your baseball where you can get it.

Interesting things from a first flip through the Handbook:

*Maybe some of you already knew this, but in  bit of an upset, our own Brett Gardner won the 2010 Fielding Bible Award for left field, beating out three-time champ and 2009 winner Carl Crawford.

*The first-ever unanimous Fielding Bible winner was three-peater Yadier Molina. Sigh [2].

*The most intriguing thing in this year’s handbook, to me, was the new section on Managers, a feature I expect to refer to often this year. For every Major League manager it includes, among other stats:

  • Lineups Used (LUp)
  • Platoon Percentage (Pl%, the percentage of players in the starting lineup who have the platoon percentage)
  • Pinch Hitters Used (PH)
  • Pinch Runners Used (PR)
  • Quick Hooks and Slow Hooks (with more detailed explanations of what those terms mean these days)
  • Long Outings (LO, meaning more than 110 pitches in a start)
  • Relievers Used on Consecutive Days (RCD)
  • Long Saves (LS)
  • Stolen Base Attempts
  • Sacrifice Bunt Attempts (SacA) (“Per 162 games, Clint Hurdle’s teams averaged 108 sacrifice bunt attempts, which was necessary because it is so difficult to score in Colorado”).
  • Pitchouts (PO)
  • Intentional Walks (IBB) and also their results: Good, Not Good, or Bomb.

Like I said, very cool. So we can see that Joe Girardi had more quick hooks than most managers (46), and that he used a fairly normal number of lineups (114 – Trey Hillman’s Royals used just 24, the Red Sox used 143, and Tony LaRussa, naturally, led ‘em all with 147). He and his players attempted fewer stolen bases than in any of his previous years as a manager,  and he ordered 37 intentional walks – a slightly higher number than most AL managers – of which 26 got a good result.

One item that I found particularly interesting: in 2006 with the Marlins, Girardi faced some criticism for overusing pitchers and wearing them out, risking injury; last year, he was sometimes criticized for being overly cautious with his pitchers. And yet over the course of his career, he has remained pretty consistent in how often he uses relievers on consecutive days, and in how often he has a slow hook on his starters. Obviously those stats don’t tell the entire story, but they do suggest to me that some assessments of Girardi’s managing probably have more to do with perception than facts.

There are also projections for every hitter and pitcher, but I prefer to wait and see how James’ projections compare with BP’s PECOTA and other systems, to get a better sense of the general range a player’s numbers are expected to fall in. (I will be a lot more zealous about that if I decide to do a fantasy team this year. Until I get organized enough to remember to arrange my pitching staff over the course of a season it’s probably a futile undertaking). But I couldn’t resist checking on our favorite demigod Mariano Rivera. James’ projection:

61 games, 62 innings, 47 hits, 3 HRs, 11 walks, 58 Ks, 1.89 ERA.

That’s what I like to see.

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[1] Image: http://bronxbanter.arneson.name/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/2011-Bill-James.jpg

[2] Sigh: http://www.bronxbanterblog.com/2010/10/06/psa/

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