Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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United States, Pennsylvania, Wexford, Christopher Wren, English, Michael, Male, 26-30, baseball , politics.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

I Shall Return... 

I will be back Monday, November 29, after I have finished gorging myself on turkey and pumpkin pie.

-In case anyone missed it, I posted in the Inquirer's forum in an effort to have Mr. Zolecki flesh out his argument a little more. (Click here for our question and response.) Brian from Philling Station explicitly asked Zolecki if he had been responding to my Season in Review series and he said no. I'm a little puzzled by that: who are the mathematically inclined Phillies fans Zolecki is referring too? I've listened to talk radio: math isn't discussed much.

Many thanks for Brian for being such an ardent defender of my work. I appreciate it.

-Remember to root for my alma mater (Pitt) on Thanksgiving Day evening against West Virginia.

-My wife & I are driving to my parents home in Downingtown today, which means we get to see 300 miles of Southern Pennsylvania. I've done the trip 50-60 times, and each time I'm struck by James Carville's statement that Pennsylvania is Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Alabama in the middle.

The Turnpike awaits...

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Monday, November 22, 2004

The Perils of Conventional Wisdom... 

I always try to read the Sunday Inquirer but I rarely get the opportunity these days. I hadn’t read Sunday’s missive from the Inquirer’s Todd Zolecki until it was brought to my attention by Philling Station’s Brian Peoples yesterday.

Buried in Zolecki’s column about how much the Phillies should enjoy life under Charlie Manuel was a bit about Citizens Bank’s reputation as a hitters park. As many of you know, I recently argued that Citizen’s reputation as a hitters park is over-blown. Imagine my surprise when I saw Zolecki write:

But is [Citizen’s Bank’s] reputation as a hitter's park

Mathematically inclined Phillies fans point out that the Phillies
had a better ERA at home (4.31 ERA) than on the road (4.61 ERA). They also hit better on the road (.268) than at home (.266).

Hmmm … “mathematically inclined Phillies fans”? I can only assume this is a reference to the Phillies blogging community. Brian assumed this was a reference to my recent Season In Review series and I have the sneaking suspicion he’s correct. Zolecki continues:

Of course, those mathematically inclined Phillies fans also have heard of Bill James, whose numbers in his 2005 handbook show that the Bank is a hitter's park.

To prove his point, Zolecki cites James' 2005 Handbook, which rates Citizen’s Bank as a hitter’s park with a 123 rating (100 is considered average) for home runs and a 109 in runs.

Well, I’ve heard of this Bill James guy too, and what reading James work on baseball stats has taught me is that the truth is rarely as clear-cut as it first appears. Here are a few points of note:

-Park factors take a long time to shake out. I’d like to refer Zolecki to a piece that ran in Hardball Times on July 27 by Studes entitled “A Random Walk in San Juan”. Studes’ article made the point that park factors take time to work out, so the initial first impressions we have about parks are often wrong. So the conventional wisdom, and the statistics Zolecki points out to prove his point, are premature.

To prove how conventional wisdom can be wrong, Studes examined Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. When it opened there was a lot of hype and hand-wringing about the Reds sudden ability to send pop-flies screaming into the Ohio River. Initially Great American looked like a power hitters park, with a home-run factor of 122 compared with a run factor of just 99. Well, Great American’s home-run factor dropped dramatically in 2004: 98. The run factor dropped as well: 85.

So what happened? Did the Red management move out the fences in the off-season? Put a massive fan in the outfield to blow the ball back in? No, it was just that the initial data on Great American was incomplete. One year doesn't tell you a whole lot about a ballpark.

Today Great American has to be seen as a pitcher’s park, a conclusion that would be shocking to fans watching home runs sail out in 2003. They wouldn't believe it then, which is why we shouldn't believe the hype now. Let’s give it a year or two before we anoint Citizen’s Bank as a hitters paradise ...

-Let’s also be careful about how we define the phrase “hitters park”. I argued that Citizen’s wasn’t so much a hitters park as it was a power hitter park. ESPN’s Park Factors page has some data on this:

In 2004 Citizens had a home run factor of 1.134 (average: 1.000), which ranked it fifth of the thirty MLB ballparks. (Great American, by the way, was a stingy 13th at 1.048.) Open-and-shut case? Not so fast … When you switch to Run Factor the Phillies drop to 12th: 1.024. In other words, Citizens Bank is 2.4% more likely to have runs scored at. 2.4%? Yawn.

Now things get interesting: switch to hits factor and the Phillies drop to 18th: 0.981. Switch to doubles factor and the Phillies drop to 26th: 0.865. Remember: 1.000 is considered average. Citizens is actually harder to get a hit in than most other MLB stadiums. Easier to get a home run, maybe. Hitters park?

Now I'd like to juxtapose these stats with those for Coors Field:

HR: 1.235 (4th)
Runs: 1.412 (1st)
Hits: 1.240 (1st)
2B: 1.316 (2nd)

Coors Field is a hitters park because the ball carries and the field is so massive that ordinary pop-flies drop in for singles and doubles. Citizens Park doesn't have those sorts of dimensions.

-Why the jump in home runs in 2004? I can offer two likely culprits: improved hitting by the Phillies, and specifically Pat Burrell and David Bell's return to form, and a dramatic decline in the quality of pitching from the Phillies in 2004.

I think once we get data from the 2005 season with we will have a more complete view of what Citizen's Bank is. My gut feeling is that the hype around Citizen's will, like Great American, be proven to be meaningless words. So I'd like to reallege my argument again: the ball has carried so far at Citizen's but it isn't any easier to get a hit there. Thus all of those solo home runs teams are hitting at Citizens aren't making that much of a difference.

I like Zolecki's use of non-traditional stats in his newspaper column: I think it shows he's got a keen mind and a willingness to think outside of the box. I just think he's a little off here, but I'm willing to leave open the (significant) possibility I'm wrong. If runs are being scored by the bushel at Citizens Bank next year I'll owe Zolecki an apology. But from where I stand: ain't no hitters park.

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Part 1 Redux: more thoughts on defense... 

I got a few questions on my comments page after Part 1 that I wanted to address and add my own comments about. First...

Q: Why no defensive Win-Shares?

A: Truthfully, I never understood them or cared for them much until recently when I came across an article at Baseball Think Factory on the subject and gained a little understanding. So, for completeness, here are the Phillies 2004 Defensive Win Shares...

Thome: 1.4
Abreu: 3.8
Bell: 4.4
Burrell: 2.6
Rollins: 4.8
Polanco: 5.9
Lieberthal: 3.6
Byrd: 2.5

Michaels: 2.4
Glanville: 1.8
Utley: 2.0
Ledee: 1.0
Pratt: 1.3
Perez: 1.3
Howard: 0.1
Wooten: 0.2
Hinch: 0.2

What wasn't a surprise? That Byrd did so poorly: he got just 2.5 to Michaels 2.4, despite logging twice as many innings in center than Michaels. Byrd was a total failure in 2004: a disaster at the plate and mediocre in the outfield. It is worth noting that Hardball Times has his total Win Shares Above Average for '04 at -4.

No surprise that Rollins was so critical to the Phillies defense, or that Polanco rates so highly as he does, but what's interesting to me is Bell's 4.4 share. His 4.4 ranks higher than Chipper Jones, Sean Burroughs or Ryan Freel. Bell is fifth in the NL amongst third basemen. I never really thought of Bell as a defensive wiz or even a critical cog in the Phillies infield, but I suppose Bell would have to play well if the Phillies were to have a good defensive infield despite Thome: the Phillies overall infield ranked fourth in fielding percentage (.985) and fifth in Zone Rating (.824). Not bad.

Q: How is ZR tabulated?

A: ZR is done by STATS, Inc. They have a system which divides the field into "quadrents" and keeps track of how a player does getting to the ball. It is a subjective stat because the scorers at STATS, Inc., award points if the player "should" or "should not" have gotten to the ball and made a play. ZR is the latest attempt to deal with the difficulty of scoring defensive abilities. (Bill James dismissed fielding percentage and the error as flawed stats in his 1977 baseball abstract and developed "Range Factor" as an alternative.)

There is a competing stat called UZR which might be a little more accurate. (Click here for an article on it at Baseball Think Factory.)

Q: Isn't the decline in Lieberthal's ability to throw out base-stealers due to the Phillies pitchers slow deliveries?

A: Good point. This is a factor that is part of the hidden game of baseball. When I criticized Lieberthal and Pratt for allowing so many successful base-stealers I hadn't given the idea that it was the pitchers fault much thought. Whoops. There is no good way of figuring this one out, although "steal attempts" might be interesting here: teams with strong-armed catchers have a deterrent effect on would-be base-stealers. As I said, Paul Lo Duca had the most base-steal attempts in the NL, perhaps a factor in DePodesta's decision to deal him to the Fish. I admit this isn't the best logic (maybe you play 19 games against station-to-station Moneyball teams), but it's a start.

A little more later.

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Survey 'o the Phillies blogosphere ...

Mike at Berks Phillies Fans is predicting an end to the Braves decade-long stranglehold on the NL East in '05 and makes a good argument for why that will happen. (Free agent defections, fatigue, etc.) Mike also proposes sending Pat Burrell down to the Orioles, a move I disagree with strongly: I think Burrell will have a season on-par with his 2002 year and he'll re-emerge as the Phillies star ... Still I agree with him that the Phillies management needs to get bolder and more aggressive.

Tom G at Balls Sticks 'n Stuff has been giving a lot of thought to Win Shares these days. I like to see what he has to say next...

Tom at Shallow Center made me smile when he said recently that Manuel's savvy cheesesteak choices evidence a keen mind. I'm inclined to disagree with him about one thing though: Geno's is the best place for a cheesesteak in Philly. Tom is the best pure writer of our group: I wonder why I'm not reading his work in the Inquirer.

Bill Liming's Phillies Fan is back from a long hiatus (missed you Bill!) with some comments about the Phillies possibly pursuing Eric Milton. Say it ain't so ...

Tom Goodman at Swing and A Miss lays out some of his ideas for 2005. I'm inclined to agree with most of his ideas (trade Bell? Yes; re-sign Polanco? Yes; sign Rollins to a long-term deal?; Yes), but I disagree with him about the Phillies alignment: Tom wants Utley at second and Polanco at third. I think Polanco's biggest plus is his defensive skill, so I want to see him at second rather than third. Otherwise, I think Tom has some solid ideas.

Mark Robinson expressed outrage at I'm Not An Athlete over Abreu finishing just eighth in the race for MVP.

Dan at Phog Lights expresses disbelief that the Phillies would do something as dumb as offer Carlos Beltran at 10 year deal worth $150mil+. I'm inclinded to agree.

Phanatic Phollow Up argues in favor of giving Charlie Manuel a chance. I think it is interesting how negatively fans have reacted to Manuel, while most Phillies bloggers, myself included, think the move was a smart one.

More later ya'll...

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New Blogger... 

I'm very pleased to welcome Ed Han of NY, NY to the Phillies blogosphere. I'm sure Ed's blog, All Things Baseball, will be a terrific read.

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