The Goldstein Project: In Search of the Run Tool Bell

Curves. They’re all kinds of good. Whether a well thrown hook induces an embarrassing swing and miss, a fine, Italian sports car hugs them on a mountain road or Scarlett Johansson is wearing something tight, curves are a beautiful part of life.  The curve that thrusts itself into my existence most often is this one:

 

That’s a graphical representation of the normal distribution that makes up the 20-80 scouting scale.  I doubt the readership of this site needs an elaborate explanation of this so I’ll be brief. Scouts grade the tools of players of all ages and skills from 20 to 80 in increments of 5 or 10 (I know of at least one team that splinters it even further than that) with a score of 50 representing the major league average and every 10 away from 50 represents a standard deviation away from that mean.  So, when scouts talk to one another about players, these numbers help to paint a picture of his skill set even if the inquiring scout hasn’t seen the prospect at all.

“Haven’t seen Ben Revere yet, Hank? He’s about 5’9”, 160lbs, 65 hit, 20 power, 70 runner at least. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to put an 8 on the glove but it’s a magnificent 7 while the arm is a 3 at best, and I’m being generous, Hank, he can’t throw worth a shit.”

Now I grade everything on this scale. I saw Looper on Wednesday night, comfortably put a 50 on it. The water coming out of the fountain at the theater was a 30 but the Neapolitan coconut candy I snuck in was a delicious 60. Branch Rickey is generally credited with its creation (the 20-80 scale, not the coconut candy) but we’re not totally sure where it comes from.

Scouts, who are not the xenophobic, math-hating dipshits they’ve been made out to be lately, communicate their evaluations to their bosses and each other with these numbers.  Most of what scouts are grading they are grading subjectively, using skills honed over years of keen baseball observation. There are, however, a few things evaluators can quantify and grade objectively. Two that come to mind are fastball velocity and, of course, speed.  Mostly, speed is measured by hand with an Accusplit stopwatch, the timer ignited when the hitter makes contact with the ball and snuffed out when he makes contact with first base.  Here are the times and their corresponding grade on the scale, the way it has been since….. forever:

Grade                   Time (R)/Time (L) in seconds

80                           4.0/3.9

70                           4.1/4.0

60                           4.2/4.1

50                           4.3/4.2

40                           4.4/4.3

30                           4.5/4.4

20                           4.6/4.5 and the Molinas

 

My stopwatch and I just sort of accepted this reality and the measurements within it and went happily about scouting minor leaguers and high schoolers all over the place until the dulcet voice of Astros Pro Scouting Director, Kevin Goldstein, blew it straight to hell.  Goldstein, on several occasions in several mediums, has stated that this scale, especially at the major league level, is likely incorrect.  Guys get to the big leagues mostly because they can hit, and speed is just icing on the cake of major league relevancy.  As such, “average” or better runners are rarer than the curve states they should be, according to Goldstein’s hypothesis.  At Baseball Info Solutions this past season I watched baseball for about 7 hours a day and timed every full effort sprint to first I could to see if Kevin is right and, if he is, what the curve actually looks like.  This is what I found:

Right handed times were more copious because balls hit to the left side of the infield led to more infield hit chances.

 

Left handed times were a little harder to come by

 

There are a few differences.  First, the results aren’t distributed in a beautifully even curve, they’re skewed.  Second, the .1 second buffer built into the scale to separate right handed hitters from left handed ones (since the lefty batter’s box is closer to first base) is a little light.  Third, left handed hitters are, on average, a little faster than the scale would indicate while righties are a little slower.

Some important logistics stuff about how I gathered data:

We use DVRs at BIS so I was constantly rewinding, timing everything a few times to make sure I got accurate results.  I got about 280 times (not all from different players, I have multiple times for some guys) which probably isn’t enough to be statistically significant, but it’s a nice start.  Some players for which I recorded multiple results displayed inconsistent times.  David Freese, for example, has a few times in the 4.5s but one 4.23 dash that had me constantly questioning my own existence. Some players were remarkably consistent. I’ve got several times for Angel Pagan, all of them between 3.98 and 4.02. Variances like Freese’s can occur from all sorts of stuff.  Maybe the guy slipped off camera or took a poor path to the bag to slow his time.  Some players’ times are not accurate representations of their speed at all. Munenori Kawasaki has a jailbreak element to his swing that has him starting toward first much sooner than other players who take forever to get going. This alters his times in context.  Rickie Weeks’ weight transfer is so odd that he also gets out of the box very quickly.  There are plenty of caveats involved with this data but also tons of possibilities.  Are there correlations with speed and defensive metrics? Would I see trends if I sorted players by position or by the team that drafted them? I rounded everyone’s time to the nearest five-hundredths, just so you know. Ben Jedlovec, who busts his ass along with the rest of BIS’s full time staff, took time out of his day to help me with Excel so I can churn out histograms now.  I once saw Ben arm wrestle Bill James. Go buy a Fielding Bible.

Even if my curve is right and the model being used by scouting departments across the globe is wrong should we care and adjust the scale? Hell no. The value in clear communication far outweighs whatever value increased accuracy provides the scouting community.  Of course, I’m open to all sorts of debate about that.

If anyone wants to google doc with everyone’s individually recorded time or has a request for an individual’s time, drop my a line in the comments section and I’ll see if I’ve got it.

Crash Bag, Vol. 23: Kowtow to the Creeping LaRussification of Baseball

I know the Phillies aren’t in it, but boy, have we seen some baseball this week! Four Game 5’s, two of them this evening. Be sure to tune in this afternoon. I’ll tell you who and what to root for later on in this post.

Some programming notes before we get started. Ordinarily I start soliciting Crash Bag questions sometime early Thursday afternoon, write the post throughout the day and post it Friday morning. However, next week I will not be able to do this, so consider the mailbox open from the moment this goes live–I’ll take your questions and grievances via Twitter either directly (via @MJ_Baumann) or via the #crashbag hashtag.

@Wzeiders: “Who would be on your Phillies dream team? (Favorite not nec. best players of all time)”

There’s obviously going to be quite a bit of overlap here, because apart from the current era, most of the people I remember are going to be among the best players in team history.

  • Catcher: Carlos Ruiz. Particularly after the past 18 months, when he changed from kind of a well-loved tagalong into a truly top-notch major league catcher.
  • First Base: John Kruk. An on-base machine who validated the dreams of every slow-pitch softball player on the East Coast. Proof positive that you can play in the major leagues even if you look like someone’s boozy uncle if your hand-eye coordination is good enough. Plus John Kruk was murdered by Robert De Niro in a Tony Scott movie. Top that, Pete Rose.
  • Second Base: Chase Utley. Apologies to Granny Hamner.
  • Shortstop: Jimmy Rollins. My favorite baseball player on any team at any position at any time period.
  • Third Base: Scott Rolen. The first Phillies player I ever saw who really awed me with his skill. There have only really been a couple of Philly athletes in my lifetime who were conspicuously great, who made you fully aware at every moment that they were operating on a different level from everyone else: Iverson. Lindros. Halladay. Terrell Owens for that one season. Dawkins. Utley. I think Claude Giroux is close to that level, if he’s not already. Rolen was the first one of those that I saw in a Phillies uniform. Watching him play third on that quick Veterans Stadium turf was like watching a leopard track an antelope, kill it and drag the carcass up into a tree. And to those of you who would have me hanged for not choosing Mike Schmidt, this is my list. Get your own.
  • Left Field: Jim Eisenreich. One of my memories of the 1993 season was Eisenreich scalding gap liner after gap liner. I was young, so my memory might be faulty, but I’m pretty sure he hit about .700 during the playoffs. Plus, on a team made up less of men than of beards and mullets, the look of Eisenreich didn’t scare me so much. And yes, I know that he primarily played right field with the Phillies. But I had to make room.
  • Center Field: Sliding Billy Hamilton. Part of the Phillies’ all-Hall of Fame outfield in the 1890s. Stole bases at a rate comparable to that of his Cincinnati Reds namesake. Wins in a squeaker over Richie Ashburn, Lenny Dykstra and Ricky Otero.
  • Right Field: Jayson Werth. I talk a lot about liking a player’s “game,” but there may be no player whose game I like more than Jayson Werth’s. A phenomenal percentage player and possessed of obscene plate discipline, Werth nevertheless excelled at the exciting aspects of the game: throws to the bases, baserunning and hitting for power. Still not worth the contract the Nationals gave him, but he’s my platonic ideal of a baseball player.
  • Starting Pitcher: Steve Carlton. Ask me in five years and I might say Cole Hamels.
  • Relief Pitcher: Toby Borland. I pitched sidearm for years because of this guy. A full bullpen would probably include Antonio Bastardo, Ryan Madson, Jim Konstanty and Steve Bedrosian.

Feel free to share your thoughts on this question in the comments. But read the rest of the post first, please.

@jtoombs51: “If you had to choose between Kraft Mac N’ Cheese and Velveeta Mac N’ Cheese which one would you choose?”

I’m not a big Mac N’ Cheese guy. I’m not sure why–it probably has something to do with leftovers not microwaving as well as some other side dishes. Though honestly, I really just like beans better. My go-to hot midnight snack in college was Bush’s beans with either barbecue sauce or Frank’s Red Hot mixed in. Make a big can, eat some, put the rest in the fridge for the next meal. I cooked this regularly, often feeding not only myself but roommates and guests as well. And no one ever caught salmonella and died, so maybe I’m not as bad a cook as I thought.

With that said, I’ll take Kraft over Velveeta, with the following caveat. Drew Magary mentioned this in his own mailbag colum, the Funbag, which is, along with Katie Baker’s Bake Shop at Grantland, the best column going in this format. Anyway, Magary hit the nail on the head when he said that the key element to good Mac N’ Cheese is the shape of the pasta. Elbow macaroni is not only boring, but it’s far from an ideal shape for capturing the cheese sauce. If you believe, as I do, that we will be judged when we die by how much cheese we’ve consumed, this simply will not do. Shells and wagon wheels are superior in all respects to macaroni as a medium for cheese sauce.

@lizroscher: “If you could pick any current or former Phillie to be a spokesman for any product, who and for what product?”

So…you’re asking me to top, for different reasons, Hunter Pence for Liscio’s Bakery and Roy Halladay for MLB 2K11. Yeah, okay. That’s going to happen. But for the sake of fun, let’s give it a shot.

“Hi, this is J.C. Romero for CVS Pharmacy–” [vaudeville cane]

Sorry. That one was in bad taste.

“Hi. This is Chase Utley for Cherry Hill Subaru, and I’m here to–are you guys sure? I mean, I’ve got some batting practice to take, some stairs to run, and then I’ve got to master fielding positions I don’t play. I know I’m famous and well-liked, but I’m not all that charismatic or anything…yes, I’ve seen Shane and Hunter’s commercials, and I know you barely need to speak English to do a successful celebrity testimonial…but I can’t be the guy you want for this. Are they going to believe me? You know I have a bad habit of saying a certain dirty word on television. Okay, if you’re sure.
“Hi, this is Chase Utley for Cherry Hill Subaru. I’m the best percentage basestealer in the history of the game, so people tend to talk about my wheels. If you’re in the market for a good set of wheels, you should test-drive one our new Imprezas. When it comes to small family cars, the Impreza combines the best in sporty handling and practicality. You won’t find a better car in the whole fu–” [vaudeville cane]

No, that was a mistake as well. I’m sorry, I’ll do better next time.

“Hi, this is Eppa Rixey for Verizon Wireless. When I led the Phillies to their first pennant in 1915, communication was key. Our Samsung Galaxy phones make it possible for you to…wait a second–everyone has a telephone? And you don’t need wires? This has got to be some kind of sorcery. That’s the craziest damn thing I’ve ever heard in my life…No, I don’t believe it…and what the hell is this? Angry Birds?” [vaudeville cane]

Please, just one more.

“Hi, this is Lenny Dykstra for Dyson. Anyone who knows about my fondness for spitting tobacco juice on the turf at the Vet knows I’m an expert in leaving a mess on the carpet. I’m here to tell you that Dyson vacuums incorporate cutting-edge technology with the latest in design to help you clean up such messes. Dyson vacuums famously don’t lose suction. Take it from me. I was on the 1996 Phillies and I know what sucking looks like!
“A Dyson vacuum can even get soda stains out of your carpet! As a member of the 1986 Mets, I have firsthand knowledge of getting clean after issues with Coke.  Dyson vacuums are the best at cleaning up messes, even messes as big as the one I left by consistently defrauding investors over the past decade! So buy a Dyson vacuum cleaner today–coming from me, you know it won’t be a gamble!”

@4Who4What: “who do I root for in the NLCS? Is there even a lesser of two evils?”

If that Nats lose, nobody. If the Nats win, you can at least root for novelty. But as far as a Giants-Cardinals matchup goes, things look grim.

I guess there are players I like on each team…no, I hate Posey, I hate Cain, I hate Pence, I hate David Freese, I hate Sandoval, I really hate Yadier Molina and Cris Carpenter…yeah, there’s really nothing to like about a Cardinals-Giants NLCS. Nothing whatsoever. Bruce Bochy and Mike Matheny are both clueless reactionaries as in-game managers. It breaks my heart that winning teams find them perfectly cromulent while Manny Acta bounces from one hapless organization to the next.

Anyway, I direct you to my earlier comments on the Stadium Collapse Game. Just root for mayhem.

The good news: I’ve been burning through Friday Night Lights on Netflix at a prolific rate, and since I won’t have the constitution to watch National League baseball for the next week or so, I can watch an absolute truckload of that show. Speaking of which, I’m a couple episodes into Season 2, and while I don’t want any significant spoilers on the fates of the various characters–can someone promise me that Lyla Garrity gets brutally murdered or sent to Vietnam or something? Because while I find Minka Kelly to be as aesthetically pleasing as the next guy…wait, not that I find the next guy to be aesthetically pleasing…not that there’s anything wrong with that…though I submit that one can appreciate that someone is attractive without actually being attracted to him…unless he’s Tim Riggins, who is just heartbreakingly gorgeous no matter which way your own personal inclinations…

You know what, I’m just going to try that one again.

I like looking at Minka Kelly, for sure, but she’s not playing a character that I find to be either likable or compelling. I’d have enjoyed watching Jason Street develop a personality a lot more if we weren’t made to suffer the shrill, self-centered, passive-aggressive Southern queen bee-ism of Lyla Garrity. So if she winds up being abducted and sold into slavery in Ukraine during Season 3 and we never hear from her again, I’d be very pleased.

I guess my answer to the original question is that you should just not watch. I’ll just be stupid. If you value your own sanity, don’t watch. I certainly won’t. Go Nats.

@CogNerd: “Pierre=high OBP,no power. Howard hits better w/o shift. Could weird batting order (pierre/howard) cover Howard’s weakness?”

It’s an interesting proposition, and while I don’t think the specific scenario you outlined would help much, it draws attention to a couple of key issues regarding the future of The Preeminent Slugger of Our Generation.

In 2006, Howard posted…you know what, I’ll say it, perhaps the greatest offensive season in franchise history. Howard, in his late 20s, hit the ball harder than anyone else in the league, not only with the power to send the ball into the outer reaches of the right field stands, but line drive power. He’s the only Phillies player who made me fear for the safety of the opposing second baseman–except when it was Dan Uggla, because screw that guy. I’m not scout, but the young Howard had 80 raw power if ever I’ve seen it. We’re talking Giancarlo Stanton power. Hemi V8 power. Matter/anti-matter reaction power.

Between his rookie year (2005) and his MVP year, Howard posted BABIPs of .354 and .356, above-average numbers you’d ordinarily expect from a prime Ichiro or some other such speed demon. As you might suspect, such was not the case with Howard–rather than legging out infield hits or punching singles past drawn-in third basemen, he simply did not hit soft ground balls or line drives that allowed fielders to get under them. Either the ball was hit right at you or you didn’t have a realistic chance of getting to it. It really was something to see.

All that ended with The Shift. Because Howard is pretty much dead-pull on grounders and line drives, defenses would leave third base undefended in favor of putting a fourth outfielder in short right. Because Howard is so slow, they got away with it.

I have no idea why Howard couldn’t just bunt anywhere to the left of the pitcher’s mound and take free infield singles until the defense stopped shifting. No idea. That he stubbornly hit into the shift for five years, to the detriment of his own on-base percentage, the Phillies’ offensive output and my own tenuous handle on sanity.

So if you’re unable to hit through the shift or unwilling to hit around it, how do you get it to go away? Well, you can’t very well leave third base undefended with a runner on second or third (because then that runner could quite easily steal either third or home), which is where this Juan Pierre idea comes in.

If the Phillies actually could have at least one runner in scoring position whenever Howard was up, that’d be awesome. In order to do that, you’d want your top OBP guys to be hitting in front of him. So the best way to get opposing defenses out of the shift is actually the orthodox way to set up a lineup: guys who get on base in front of guys who hit for power. Maybe the Phillies might let Utley and Rollins be a little more liberal with their stolen base attempts with Howard up, because rather than fearing taking a man off base with Howard up, there might be an added benefit to moving the infielders around.

But unfortunately, The Big Piece is losing bat speed. Rapidly. Like A-Rod rapidly. Like Mercury capsule firing its retro-rockets rapidly. It will soon get to the point where it doesn’t matter where the infielders are; Ryan Howard’s swing will just sort of arc lazily through the strike zone, like a jumbo jet full of nuns, children and puppies that’s lost three of its engines and is tumbling aimlessly back to the earth and a fiery end.

My only hope is that by the time that happens, Howard only has three years left on that Soviet invasion of Afghanistan of a contract.

@jcamaratta: “Phillies look to add a race in 6th inning (ala Pres race in DC). Theme is “World Dictators”. Who do you got?”

Just so we’re clear, let me just say up front that I don’t endorse any of the viewpoints or practices of any of the autocratic rulers discussed below. Except for Francisco Franco’s overwhelming dislike of FC Barcelona. He and I are on the same page on that. I don’t know that I’d have had the club president assassinated, but then again, I’m a writer, not a fascist dictator.

This is a great question. And believe it or not, I’ve given it some thought. In my world history class my freshman year of high school, we had a weeklong group project called the “Dictator of the Decade” debate. The class was broken up into five groups to support one of five candidates (Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Josef Stalin, Francisco Franco and Mao Zedong) as the greatest dictator of the mid-20th Century. I guess, the “Decade” in question was the 1940s, but by the time Mao took power, Mussolini and Hitler were already dead, but let’s not quibble with the specifics when we’re talking about alliteration.

We got really into it, because mine was the most obnoxiously overachieving class in a school full of obnoxious overachievers–doing research, writing prepared speeches, and creating costumes for the debate, and let me tell you, you have not lived until you’ve seen a 14-year-old boy of Indian descent dress up like Hitler for a school project. Anyway, I bring this up because those five are a good place to start.

I think Hitler and Stalin have to make the cut. Both score high on totalitarianism, brutality and impact on world politics. And for simplicity’s sake, let’s limit it to 20th Century dictators, because I don’t want to have to figure out where other authoritarian rulers fit. Somehow it seems unfair to compare Catherine the Great to Joseph Mobutu.

So if we’re taking four, and we’re taking Stalin and Hitler, that leaves two spots open. I know this because I’m good at math.

The 20th Century is a veritable cornucopia of estimable candidates, whose longevity, brutality and malfeasance stand them in good stead in any list of autocrats. Among them: Pol Pot, Josip Broz Tito, Slobodan Milosevic, Kim Jong-Il, Muammar Qaddafi (I was really hoping never to have to spell his name again after he died) and Fidel Castro. But I won’t add any of those to the list.

Our third and fourth dictators are Saddam Hussein (talk about brutality and changing the course of history and, in the best tradition of Hitler and Stalin, a mustache worth reckoning with) and Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania. I choose Ceausescu over Milosevic, Castro or Pol Pot (and if you disagree with me, I understand totally–this is a dark horse pick) for his bizarre behavior, brutal treatment of his citizens and the fact that he was ousted, tried and executed by his own people in the span of a little more than two weeks, which doesn’t happen to outgoing dictators as often as you might think. That’s some Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette stuff right there, sports fans. Ceausescu didn’t just get tossed out of the country to live in Brazil or Switzerland–he was put to death. Not quite Mussolini hanging upside-down by a meat hook, but in 1990, it might as well have been.

So Hilter, Stalin, Saddam and Ceausescu. That’s my Dictators’ Race.

@TonyMcIV: “What should the Phillies do with Schierholtz? See what he can do in Spring Training and platoon him? Or trade him?”

This is a question of underrated importance. I like Schierholtz. He’s a good defender who hits righties pretty well (.354 wOBA against them last year) and is under team control for two more years. I’d like to see them give him a run-out in center, but I don’t know for sure that he can hack it there defensively full-time. But I think the ideal is to put him in a platoon with a guy who can hit lefties (say…John Mayberry) and play him in right. Maybe he gets flipped for some minor-league depth or some help at another position (third base, maybe?), but I’d like to see the Phillies hang onto him and give him at least semi-regular at-bats in right field.

Speaking of platoons.

@pinvert: ” what are the chances the Phils actually employ the 326 different platoons that have been talked about?

About nil. I find platooning to be an extremely effective way of getting around weaknesses in one’s lineup and/or targeting pitchers with severe splits. Joe Maddon uses it to great effect in Tampa. The A’s, as Bill said earlier this week, have done the same. The problem is that no one carries a bench deep enough for platoons anymore. Earl Weaver used to platoon. Casey Stengel platooned. Both of them knew a thing or two about managing. But now, since we’d rather carry 14 relief pitchers than build a solid bench, the platoon is all but dead.

I dunno, it seems like, if you have two guys who play the same position, and one hits lefties well and and the other hits righties well, you’d play one against left-handed starters and the other against right-handed starters. You’d think. Instead, we kowtow to the creeping LaRussification of baseball and go batter-for-batter with relief pitchers.

@Lana: “Why is Yankees”

Why, indeed. Because of the obnoxious cultural hegemony of New York City, no doubt, as well as an overwhelming financial advantage. They should be destroyed.

@SoMuchForPathos: “I’ve been playing NCAA 2004 obsessively. Is there anything on this planet more satisfying than running the triple-option flexbone?”

No. Certainly not. I never really perfected the triple option myself–I usually ran a combination of the power-I and the shotgun spread, always heavy on option runs, screens and play action. Kind of a hybrid between what Steve Spurrier’s running at South Carolina right now and what Barry Switzer ran at Oklahoma.

Speaking of what Steve Spurrier’s running at South Carolina right now, it has never been more fun to be a Gamecock fan than it is right now. Last week’s win against Georgia was probably my favorite regular season game I’ve ever watched in any sport. I say this now because we’re going to lose either tomorrow against LSU or next week at Florida, and to one of Tennessee and Clemson, because if there’s one thing USC knows how to do, it’s lose to an inferior opponent when they’re on the verge of national relevance. But I digress.

NCAA 2004 is probably my favorite football video game of all time. It was just realistic enough to remind you of the real thing, but still simple enough to be easy to master. And I’ll say this–if you play them right, Kansas State in that game, with an offensive backfield of Ell Roberson and Darren Sproles, is nigh unbeatable. They’re tiny, but they’re fast, and Roberson was a great passer, which stands out in a video game based on college football. That’s one of the things I liked about that game–it’s brutally honest about the quality of the college passing game circa 2004. It’s frustrating when you’re trying to overhaul a deficit in the latter stages of the game, but it forces you to run a lot.

In my experience, people don’t run enough in video game football. It’s all a race to put up big scoring numbers, but where’s the appreciation for the grind-it-out, three yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust game of yore? All you need is 3.4 yards a carry and you never give the ball up. We as a society should run the ball more.

Run the ball more. Go O’s. Go Nats.