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.

J.C. Romero Is Still An Option

In his live chat at Baseball Prospectus today, I asked Eric Seidman about the Phillies’ LOOGY options and who he prefers. He said:

Dennys Reyes. Oh wait, nevermind. Scott Eyre still retired? How about the J.C. Romero from 2007? I think Joe Beimel would be a good fit. I’d also take a flier on Ron Mahay. Realistically, I’d be more comfortable forgoing the idea of a LOOGY and just building a solid overall bullpen. And as iffy as Romero looked last year, he still finished 2nd to Boone Logan in my 2010 LOOGY Awards, which measured the numbers lefty batters produced against a lefty specialist, relative to how those same batters performed against all other lefty pitchers. Maybe bring him back at a bargain price.

You may recall that in late March, I argued that Romero should be used strictly as a LOOGY. He is garbage against right-handed batters but has shown a legitimate ability to dominate left-handed hitters. If the Phillies are simply looking for a LOOGY, why not take another shot with Romero? Romero still wants to be a Phillie, after all:

“Maybe this is a door that opens for me to go back to Philly,” said Romero, the Phillies’ top lefty reliever the last four seasons with a 2.60 ERA over 260 relief appearances since 2007. “I hope so. My family loves it in Philly. I love it in Philly. I hope it works out and I can be back there. I felt they were closing the door for me when they signed Dennys, but everything happens for a reason.”

Here are the facts, using Romero’s career splits:

  • vs. RHB: 6.8 K/9, 6.9 BB/9, .292 BABIP, 5.34 xFIP
  • vs. LHB: 8.2 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, .266 BABIP, 3.61 xFIP

Romero made over $4 million in 2010, but he is now 34 years old, has an injury history, and he will be used sparingly as the situations allow. A pay cut is absolutely defensible and Romero realizes it:

“You have to understand that I’m not asking for $4 million,” Romero said. “That’s what I made at my best. It’s not like I’m expensive right now.”

Romero noticed that Lee left money on the table to return to Philly. He hinted that he’d do the same.

“What Mr. Cliff Lee did was a class act,” Romero said. “Sometimes being comfortable and in a place where you can make a difference means more than money. Hopefully, the Phillies and my agent will talk again.”

Let’s get this done, Ruben.

Graphical Player 2011

If you’re an avid fantasy baseball player, do yourself a solid and subscribe to Heater Magazine. You’ll get access to a plethora of stats as well as aesthetically-pleasing and easy-to-read charts similar to the ones on display in my latest article at Baseball Prospectus.

Every year, the upcoming fantasy baseball season is put to print in the Graphical Player with the same high quality analysis found at Heater. Not only can you have the most comprehensive fantasy baseball information on your hard drive, but you can also take it with you while you wait for your car to be repaired or while you’re waiting for a flight. It doesn’t matter what kind of league you play in because the Graphical Player 2011 covers it all.

As someone who has become more deeply entrenched in fantasy baseball with every passing year (much to the detriment of other life priorities), my involvement with Heater and Baseball Prospectus boosted my performance significantly. In the three fantasy leagues I was involved with, I ranked first (of ten, head-to-head), second (of eight, head-to-head), and eighth (of 14, rotisserie) in ERA. Since I covered starting pitchers every week for B-Pro, I was immersed in the wealth of statistics at my disposal and it dramatically bolstered my ability to analyze talent.

If you’re interested in getting the same edge that we have, I highly recommend purchasing the Graphical Player 2011. You can obtain an 18-page sample by clicking here.

A rundown of what you can expect in the GP2011:

Graphical Player includes dashboards for over 1,050 ballplayers from both the majors and the minors, chosen expressly for their interest to fantasy leaguers. Featuring analysis from 24 of the web’s savviest baseball writers, Graphical Player is now bigger and better than ever. Key features include:

  • NEW FOR 2011 Ownership figures for online leagues
  • NEW FOR 2011 New metrics such as RS% and RBI% for hitters and Lead and Disaster Starts for pitchers
  • NEW FOR 2011 A mega “Draft Pack” section for easy drafting
  • NEW FOR 2011 A table comparing each player to his competition at his position
  • NEW FOR 2011 Four years of factors for Scoresheet Baseball
  • Projected and historical dollar values for single and mixed Roto leagues, as well as tallies for point-based leagues
  • Support for a variety of fantasy categories, including Caught Stealing, Complete Games, Blown Saves, Holds, Quality Starts, and more
  • A unique mini-browser showing five players with similar projections at the same position
  • Profiles of more than 100 top prospects, with independent rankings from three experts
  • Full player stats by team for 2010
  • Four years of career stats for each player, including splits
  • Minor-league stats down to Single-A for each player for 2010

Davey Lopes Squeals on Chase Utley [Updated]

From David Laurila’s Prospectus Q&A with Phillies first base coach Davey Lopes:

David Laurila: You’ve received a lot of credit for the team’s improved baserunning in recent years. What have you done in that regard?

Davey Lopes: Actually, just getting them to pursue going first to third, and the guys that we feel have base-stealing ability—getting them to utilize their speed more. Over the last few years, it’s been pretty successful, but this year we’re a little bit slow for whatever reason.

DL: Slow in what way?

Lopes: The numbers. Mainly the stolen-base attempts are just not there like they have been in the last three years that I’ve been a part of the organization. One reason is that Jimmy Rollins is hurt and he’s our main guy as far as attempting to steal bases. Vic [Shane Victorino] is starting to pick it up. And Jayson [Werth]—and I use the term loosely—is not very aggressive at all, for whatever reason, this year. Chase [Utley] has been hampered by a little bit of a knee injury. That’s more than likely why our numbers are down, but it’s still confusing to me as to why they haven’t been as aggressive in attempting to steal.

[…]

DL: You mentioned that the team isn’t running as well this season. Is that reversible, or indicative of a team that is maybe getting a bit older and slower?

Lopes: Well, I wouldn’t say that it’s not reversible, but the only way that it’s going to get any better is to, a) Get Jimmy Rollins back and he’s healthy; b) The other guys that aren’t attempting to run need to start putting pressure on the defense by running. Now, I can’t force them to run. All that I can do is point out certain things, and then it’s up to them. But Victorino is starting to come along, and right now he is really the only one running, or attempting to steal, because Jimmy is hurt. Chase has had some problems with his knee, and Jayson has had a horrendous slump for the last month or so. So I think that once they just get back to hitting, and back to winning—these things help us win. When you get on base and the opposition presents you with an opportunity to steal a base—if we don’t capitalize, we’re only defeating what we’re built around.

Since May 25 (21 games), Utley is 12-for-76 (.158) with two extra-base hits (two doubles) and a .270 OBP/.184 SLG. A knee problem would certainly explain Utley’s offensive woes. However, by all accounts, he has played fantastic defense. His UZR/150 is at 16.3, just a bit higher than his career average 14.0. If Utley’s knee was truly problematic, we would expect it to also translate into poorer defense, no?

Perhaps the knee injury has simply forced Chase to alter his swing mechanics. From a Jayson Stark article at ESPN on June 4:

Once again this week, let’s check in with some of America’s most brilliant scouting minds:

[…]

On Chase Utley: “He looks like he’s not seeing the ball. He’s shooting the bat out like he’s just trying to make contact, instead of firing the bat out to try and drive it. It just looks like he’s not seeing it out of the pitcher’s hand, and that’s what’s always made him so good, why he hits left-handers so well. He just sees the ball so well. But not right now.”

The big difference in the spray charts (thanks, Texas Leaguers!) before and during his offensive slump are pitches he pulls down the right field line.

Also notable is that, in the smaller span of games, Utley has a similar amount of ground balls to the right side of the infield.

That Utley is nursing an injury should come as no surprise to anyone as he is well-known for hiding his wounds. Unfortunately, as bad as he has been hitting, the Phillies can’t afford to give him an extended period of rest as a lineup consisting of both Juan Castro and Wilson Valdez is begging for a shut-out.

UPDATE: GM Ruben Amaro disputes Lopes’ claim that Utley is injured. Via Jim Salisbury:

Amaro had a sharp response to Lopes’ comment on Friday afternoon.

“Davey Lopes is not a doctor. He’s not our spokesman. He has given out wrong information,” Amaro said in a telephone interview with CSNPhilly.com. “Chase is not injured. There is no injury. I will dispute what Davey says. That is false and incorrect information.”

Amaro, for the first time, did admit that Utley has dealt with some soreness in his knee. Amaro was not sure which knee was affected.

“He has had some intermittent soreness like any other player has over the course of a season,” Amaro said. “Guys get soreness in their wrists, their ankles. Pitchers get soreness in their shoulders after they throw. That does not mean they are injured. Every guy who puts an ice pack on is not injured.”

Amaro was asked if the team had administered an MRI on Utley’s knee.

“No,” Amaro said. “There is no injury. It is not an issue. I don’t even think he’s on our injury report.”

LOL: Lots of Links

I haven’t linked to my work elsewhere in a while, so I’d like to get that out of the way and direct you to the outstanding work of others as well. Additionally, you may notice a new ad on the right-hand sidebar from Google. If you have a few seconds, click on the links. It doesn’t take much effort and it will help pay for the costs of maintaining this website. Thanks!

Baseball Prospectus fantasy starting pitcher advice:

Baseball Daily Digest:

Elsewhere:

Useful links:

Around the SweetSpot:

The Phillies play the Braves early today — the game starts at 1:05 PM EST. Joe Blanton vs. Tommy Hanson.

BDD: Cliff Lee: A Love Story

At Baseball Daily Digest, I investigate the hype surrounding Cliff Lee following the trade that brought him to Seattle.

The inclinations of Schilling, Rollins, and scores of Phillies fans about Lee’s skill is built on a solid foundation, even if they do tend to exaggerate. However, the Phillies’ ability to retain Lee would have come at the cost of a weak Minor League system. Furthermore, even the Major League team in 2011 and beyond may have been weaker because GM Ruben Amaro may not have been able to sign then arbitration-eligible Joe Blanton, Shane Victorino, and Carlos Ruiz to multi-year deals. And the organization may not have been able to sign Roy Halladay to an extension to keep him in Philadelphia until at least 2013.

Friday’s fantasy baseball article is up at Baseball Prospectus. There, you’ll find out three pitchers who I think are underrated and could help your team this year.

BDD: Phillies 2010 Preview

At Baseball Daily Digest, I preview the 2010 Philadelphia Phillies.

Will a revamped bench and bullpen help the Phillies become the first National League team to reach the World Series in three consecutive years since the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals? That’s what is on the minds of Phillies fans going into 2010.

The preview went onto 8 pages in Microsoft Word and totals over 3,400 words. What I’m most proud of, though, is that I worked in the word “milquetoast” correctly. “Milquetoast” is such a great word.

If you missed it, my Phillies preview at The Hardball Times can be found here.

Once you’re done traversing the Phillies previews, you can check out my latest Fantasy Beats: Hot Spots installment at Baseball Prospectus.

Recommended Reading

Let’s head into the weekend in style. I’ll catch you up on my latest from around the Interwebs.

Elsewhere, I’m happy to announce that Crashburn Alley has advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in The Phield. I am very grateful for all of the votes that have been cast in support of this blog; 408 of them were cast in the second round alone. The “odds” of Crashburn Alley winning it all are 12:1 but stranger things have happened.

I’ll post a link to the voting when it goes live on Saturday. Please continue to cast your votes!

Remember, you can follow Crashburn Alley on Twitter by clicking here.

Baseball Prospectus: The Davey Lopes Effect

I have penned a guest article for Baseball Prospectus, detailing the effect Davey Lopes has had on the Phillies’ feats on the base paths.

The Phillies have won the NL East in each of the last three seasons. They won it all in 2008 and were two wins away from repeating in ’09. Aside from their ability to mash the baseball, the Phillies have been known as one of the most aggressive and efficient base-running teams in all of baseball, thanks in large part to the hiring of first base coach Davey Lopes prior to the ’07 season. It is common knowledge that Lopes, a prolific base-stealer in his playing days (557 bags in 671 attempts, 83 percent), has helped the Phillies’ baserunning by lending his wisdom to the players. For fun, we will test that theory to see how accurate it truly is.

It has been pointed out that I was too absolutist with my conclusions, and that is correct. I’m not sure if that will be edited but I wanted to point it out here anyway. At any rate, I hope you enjoy it.