Posted by: Peter | September 22, 2009

Random Thoughts: 9/21 @CWS

Some unrelated thoughts I had while watching last night’s game.

1. Daniel Hudson and chasing the high hard one

During the game, it seemed to me like Daniel Hudson was getting an awful lot of swings and misses at pitches that were way up in the zone. Looking at the pitchf/x data suggests I was wrong about that, though: although the Twins were definitely fouling off a lot of those pitches, they only swung and missed a few times:


Two of those whiffs at high pitches were by Jason Kubel, which prompted me to look up all of the strikes he’s received this year:


That’s a lot of swings and misses at high pitches! Kubel seems to be particularly susceptible to this–if you look at the graphs for, say, Justin Morneau or Michael Cuddyer, they don’t look like this.

It’s also interesting how Kubel’s “whiff zone” seems to start almost exactly at the top of the strike zone: if it’s high but in the zone, he can generally get a bat on it. If he learns to recognize those high pitches a little better, he could become an even better hitter.

2. What’s in an Error?

Tom Tango had an interesting post about how we statistically categorize the situation where a batter reaches on an error. Traditionally, it’s treated the same as making an out. But this only makes sense if you assume that the batter doesn’t have anything to do with “forcing” the fielder’s error. Tango seems to think this is wrong, but in the comments his co-author Mitchel Lichtman defends the practice.

Just after I read that exchange, I saw Orlando Cabrera reach base on an error where he bunted the ball back to the pitcher, who proceeded to throw the ball away. Now, should Cabrera get some credit for reaching base in that situation? On the one hand, it was arguably a bad situation to lay down a bunt, and less arguably, it was a bad bunt, which would normally have resulted in an out. On the other hand, maybe the fact that Cabrera chose a surprise bunt in an unexpected situation, against a rookie pitcher,  was precisely what created the situation that led to an error. It seems like there should be a way of figuring out empirically how to assign the credit/blame in this situation, but there are so many interacting factors that I can’t really wrap my mind around it at the moment.

3. You don’t see that every day

Recently, I’ve been working on a baseball simulator. The essence of the program is based on the fact that for any state of the game–that is, any combination of a certain number of outs and a certain configuration of baserunners–you can model the probability of transitioning to various subsequent states. For most events, it’s pretty easy to determine the transition probabilities empirically, because we have lots and lots of examples of different kinds of events occurring in real games. So, for example, it’s easy to figure out the probability that, if there’s a runner on second with one out, the outcome of the play will be a single and a run scored–because that situation has happened so many times in baseball history.

But as I start to refine the simulator, I have to deal with certain kinds of rare events, which only happen in certain unusual situations. One of these happened in last night’s game: a double steal.

In the data covered by Retrosheet–going back to 1911–there are less than 4000 attempted double steals. In recent years, there have been about 100 per year. By itself, this level of rarity would make it hard to accurately determine when double steals happen, but not has hard as some other, even rarer events–catcher’s interference, for example.

The bigger problem, however, is how many details of the game situation you need to look at to really know whether a double steal is likely. Consider the situation in last night’s game. You have combination of, at a minimum, the following: fast runners on both first and second (Carlos Gomez and Nick Punto); a pitcher who is slow to deliver the ball to be plate; and a catcher who isn’t that good at throwing out runners. If any of those elements had been missing, the double steal probably wouldn’t have been called. In addition, the score has to play a role: you don’t generally go for a double steal in a blowout. In this latter regard, the situation last night was kind of unusual: the Twins were ahead by four runs, and only 14% of the double steal attempts in retrosheet came when the run differential was that high.


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