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Sabermetrician in exile
February 12, 2011 8:01 PM   Subscribe

Sabermetrician in Exile. Voros McCracken's radical idea -- that pitchers have very little ability to induce batters to hit into outs, and succeed mostly insofar as they can strike out a lot of hitters and give up few home runs and walks -- has changed the way baseball teams are constructed. (Heard of BABIP? That's him.) Every major league team has employees who rely on McCracken's insights. McCracken, struggling to make his rent in suburban Phoenix, isn't one of them.
posted by escabeche (20 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
As the guy who let a dozen grounders go through my legs one game last summer, I can attest to both the truth and accuracy of the idea that the pitcher has limited control over the outcome. Was he ever mad at me that day.
posted by randomyahoo at 8:33 PM on February 12, 2011


If he can make it in football, he's going to be incredibly well rewarded. The money invested in players by the European clubs dwarfs what teams like the Yankees do here. They would be thrilled to give him millions to save ten times that on bad salaries.
posted by oddman at 8:39 PM on February 12, 2011


This blows the years of conventional wisdom from TV announcers that getting hitters to hit ground outs and pop flies was the measure of a good pitcher. It makes the perfect game / no hitter an even more by-chance / enigmatic occurrence, since strike-outs are one of the least efficient ways to pitch a player out. As a baseball fan I'm really floored that I haven't heard of this before. Thanks for this. It sort of demystifies one of the aspects of baseball, can you have any influence on what happens when wood hits leather?
posted by Space Coyote at 8:42 PM on February 12, 2011


That said, the nugget about the rule not applying to knuckleball pitchers is really intriguing to me. Is it just that knuckleballs are so random that a hit is more often just a little too high or low than with a more predictable pitch?

I still wonder how foul balls factor into this, can pitchers throw a ball to induce a foul? Seeing some long battles I'd almost be sure of it but maybe that's just a fluke, too.
posted by Space Coyote at 8:47 PM on February 12, 2011


Doesn't the second link explain that McCraken's radical idea was soundly disproved?
posted by milestogo at 8:51 PM on February 12, 2011


...while still being useful for its methods, of course.
posted by milestogo at 8:53 PM on February 12, 2011


The amount of chaos involved in a bat meeting a ball is staggering.
posted by Xoebe at 9:12 PM on February 12, 2011


Doesn't the second link explain that McCraken's radical idea was soundly disproved?

Nope. It does note that hitters can influence their BABIP to some extent, which might seem give us the feeling that pitchers could influence their BABIP from the other end, but, by and large, this does not seem to be so.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:22 PM on February 12, 2011


Can I anecdote my way out of this?
posted by Sphinx at 10:30 PM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


The amount of energy that went into attempting to disprove McCracken's idea is simply staggering and yet, here it stands. Without going too far down the rabbit hole of sabermetric nerdery, suffice to say that while there are a variety of amendments and addendums you could add to his theory to explain outlying cases, the basic idea is tantamount to gospel in serious analytical circles.

A lot of the interesting current work revolves around ground ball/fly ball ratio and the ratio of home runs to fly balls.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:41 PM on February 12, 2011


Maybe "gospel" was a poor choice of words. BABIP randomness for pitchers isn't a belief, it's a reality noted over 100 years plus of data.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:42 PM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: the mind of a Wall Street analyst and the drive of a nihilist
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 1:28 AM on February 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Awesome article, and I don't understand statistics. Love the idea of a late night message board post changing the world
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 1:30 AM on February 13, 2011


I can't stand baseball, but I could read stuff like this all day. Thanks.
posted by nevercalm at 1:30 AM on February 13, 2011


All his story does is reinforce that in this country, you can be a genius, you can work hard, you can spend countless nights slaving over figures, then create something that fundamentally changes the way people do things, and you still won't be able to make enough money to live in Boston. Fucking hell.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:48 AM on February 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


The guy picked Jacoby Ellsbury, Craig Hansen, Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie and Michael Bowden? That kind of draft deserves a long term contract - this guy clearly can't strike gold every year, but when he does, oh boy are you gonna rake it in. Just pay him a hundred grand a year to play with spreadsheets.

On the other hand, McCracken's dead wrong in believing he has to keep his findings secret until someone pays him for them. That's not the smart play - the smart play is to give absolutely everything away for free, until someone comes along with a fat paycheck to keep him to themselves as a competitive advantage, or to turn his skills to their particular problem, or both.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:17 AM on February 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Nope...might seem give us the feeling that pitchers could influence their BABIP from the other end, but, by and large, this does not seem to be so.



The second paragraph of the second article says:

McCracken’s article was followed by Tom Tippett’s in-depth look at DIPS, which has since become the way the baseball statistics community has looked at DIPS: "pitchers do influence in-play outcomes to a significant degree, [but] there’s a lot more room for random variation in these outcomes than in the defense-independent outcomes."

posted by milestogo at 6:22 AM on February 13, 2011


Ahh. I was at the third link. Even so, the third paragraph expresses that sentiment in a clearer way: "even though the overall correlation on BABIP is near zero, there appear to be several components that have some predictive value and are therefore somewhat within a pitcher’s control." Basically, line drive percentage, ground ball/fly ball ratio and a few other things muddy it up a bit, but the takeaway is still that the overall correlation on BABIP is near zero. It isn't zero, and diligent folks are still trying to parse that little sliver left over. But it is near zero, so McCracken's main point still holds.

Honestly, the whole thing is enough to make your head hurt. But still: McCracken has it right.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:10 AM on February 13, 2011


That's not the smart play - the smart play is to give absolutely everything away for free, until someone comes along with a fat paycheck to keep him to themselves as a competitive advantage, or to turn his skills to their particular problem, or both.

How is that not what he tried to do with the Sox? I think the lesson of his experience with them is that the "fat paycheck" just isn't that fat.
posted by asterix at 11:03 AM on February 13, 2011


A bit off topic, but I was surprised to learn that baseball analysts' pay starts at around $30k. I suspect there's a bit of taking advantage of the fact that people like walking around saying they work for a major league baseball team, so you can pay them in that instead of in money.
posted by madcaptenor at 1:21 PM on February 13, 2011


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