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Chat: Dan Fox

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Friday February 29, 2008 1:00 PM ET chat session with Dan Fox.


Dan Fox writes "Schrodinger's Bat" for BP, and contributed articles on baserunning and throwing arms to Baseball Prospectus 2008

Dan Fox: Good morning or afternoon as the case may be! Spring training is underway (and in less than a week I'll be basking in the Arizona sun) and Baseball Prospectus 2008 is shipping so what more could a person ask for? I'll be here for 90 minutes so feel free to ask questions on base running, throwing, spring training, defense, or anything else that catches your fancy. I don't promise to answer all your questions or even answer them very well but there you have it. I've got my usual collection of varied music playing so let's get started.

Or (Dallas): I know that way back when, Hamilton was throwing 95 mph. Is his outfield arm still 80 on the scouting scale?

Dan Fox: A throwing question right off the bat, excellent.

In the essay "Expanding the Cannon" that you'll find in BP2K8 you'll see that among center fielders Josh Hamilton ranked 5th at +3.9 runs saved with his arm. That metric is composed of four components: hit advancement, throwing out runners stretching, fly ball advancement, and "other". Hamilton did well in both hit advancement and fly ball advancement (by virtue of just 4 of 35 runners advancing) although in 145 stretch opportunities he didn't nab anyone.

Of course he did all of this in just 62 adjusted games. In the essay I also describe the rate statistic scaled to 550 opportunities and there he ended up at +8.9 behind a few other guys with limited playing time (for example Jason Lane and Jacque Jones who had 29 and 72 adjusted games in center respectively. Among centerfielders who played more Ichiro Suzuki came out on top at +6.0 in 149 adjusted games with Andruw Jones and Bill Hall next in line.

By all accounts he does have a fine arm but of course in a smaller sample like this I would take these results with a grain of salt. It'll be interesting to see what he does with even more playing time in Texas in 2008.

drmorris (SF): Should ballpark be factored into the calculations on throwing arms? I'm thinking of guys who learn to use the Green Monster's predictable bounces, or, conversely, the poor bastards forced to deal with crazy bounces off the brick RF wall at AT&T Park.

Dan Fox: Absolutely.

And in the throwing metric I use the same park factors that are used in computing the baserunning metrics are employed.

That said, fielders who learn to take advantage of the idiosyncracies of their parks will do well since they're in effect compared against all other fielders at their park and field.

It's also probably worth noting that, although the primary goal is to measure the impact of a player's throwing arm, some of an outfielder's ability to hold runners results from his ability to field hits quickly and cleanly. In that sense, this metric is also measuring an aspect of the fielder's range that is omitted from most range statistics, which concern themselves only with batted balls that are turned into outs, thus further compensating for the deficiencies of those statistics in evaluating outfielders' total impact on the game.

Clay (St. Louis, MO): Who has the stronger arm? Me or Juan Pierre? (Note: I "probably" lead my slow pitch softball league in outfield assists last year, although most of the base runners have had hip replacements recently.)

Dan Fox: Well, if your league is anything like the one I played in last year, getting an assist is actually an accomplishment since we're too old to try to stretch anything or for that matter want to even consider sliding. So I'd have to say yes, your arm is probably competitive.

For 2007 Pierre ranked dead last among centerfielders at -7.3 with a rate of -6.0. Grady Sizemore is second to last at -4.6 with David DeJesus (-4.5) not far behind. In 2006 Pierre was -1.8 and in 2005 -1.6. From 2005-2007 he finished second to last at -10.7 ahead of only Johnny Damon (-11.2). He wasn't nearly as bad as far as rate was concerned because of his greater playing time (-3.0 per 550 opportunities). From a rate perspective Brady Clark did the worst among centerfielders who received much playing time (256 adjusted games in those three years) at -5.3 runs per 550 opportunities.

Who was the worst in 2005-2007 you might ask (ok, you didn't but play along)? Shawn Green was -16.0 and Shannon Stewart was -11.8 before we get to Damon and Pierre. Jason Bay (-10.5) and Xavier Nady (-10.4) were no great shakes either.

Patrick (STL): Dan, it would seem logical that a pitcher who threw 90+ MPH would have a pretty strong OF throwing arm. That said, I think Rick Ankiel still surprised a lot people last year with a very good, and at times outstanding, throwing arm. How does his arm stack up against his peers, and how good should we expect his OF play to be for a full season?

Dan Fox: Rick Ankiel played 22 adjusted games in right, 2 in left, and 15 in center field. When you add it all up he was a very impressive +3.3 (+2.1 in RF and +0.3 in CF, his LF numbers are a little skewed since the part of the system that deals with stretching hits works on probabilities and so small sample sizes are problematic).

So I would assume in a full season we'll see him as above average at least at the corners.

Ira (Texas): Everyone seems to say that the Rangers "need more pitching", but is that truly the problem? I guess I've become used to the high offense environment of Rangers Ballpark so I think the problem is that their outfield hasn't produced in a while. Question: year too early? will they content before the A's?

Dan Fox: Generally speaking when teams in hitter's parks do well, they do so based on their pitching. And so getting their rotation ironed out (a rebound from Jason Jennings would of course be among the biggest shots in the arm they could hope for).

That said, I kind of agree with you in that they certainly need more producion from their outfield. I just don't see Byrd, Catalanotto, Bradley, and Hamilton really getting it done. Their team EqA in 2007 was just .257 and that's got to improve if they're going to be competitive before the A's.

Ira (Texas): Also, what brick and mortar stores will be carrying BP 2k8 this year? And when will they be in?

Dan Fox: You should look for the book at major and regional chains like Borders, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, and Books Inc.

We've seen the book already in some Borders outlets but some western-states customers were told by Borders that they'll have it next week.

Thanks for the question, I can't wait to see the finished product myself :)

MA (Athens, GA): Any chance of an Atlanta BP event (book tour, Pizza Feed, etc.) this year? (The events page only has one Southern event [and it's in FL, which is kind of its own world ;) ].)

Dan Fox: There is no event scheduled in the Atlanta area but we're always looking for willing champions who see the need...

Evan (Vancouver, BC): How detailed are your throwing park factors? Hitting park factors are amazing, with aspects like Safeco causes hitters to hit more flyballs, and RFK reduces the run-expectancy of line drives (what?). Do you have throwing park factors like that, or is that still on the wish list?

Dan Fox: Great question.

As I mentioned in response to a previous question these are the same factors I use for the baserunning metrics.

So each park gets a single number calculated for each field which means we're not looking at differing hit types (line drive, fly ball etc.). That single number is based on multiple years of data (for the baserunning and throwing numbers you'll find in the book this is three years worth) and is calculated by looking at the ratio of bases gained per opportunity on the various advancement scenarios (hits and fly ball outs) for all games played at the home park to all those played by the same teams in other parks.

After the raw number is calculated we then apply the park factor taking into account that a fielder plays only half their games at home.

Obviously, there is a more precise way to do this as I've done with outfield SFR where you compare the player versus all other players individualized for each opportunity across parks. That approach takes into account playing many games at certain visiting parks and is more fine-grained. Of course it requires a lot more calculation but is arguably more sound.

Hope that helps.

Rob (Andover, CT): Who is the best overall baserunner on the Yankees?

Dan Fox: In 2007 I had Johnny Damon on top at +7 runs with Alex Rodriguez next at +5.2. Derek Jeter usually does well in baserunning and was at +2.4 and Hidecki Matsui was at +2.3.

On the flip side, as usual Jorge Posada was last at -7.6 and Jason Giambi was at -3.5. Robinson Cano also did poorly at -2.2. Those three were also on the bottom in 2006 with Bernie Williams next.
Melky Cabrera (+2) did well in 2006 as did Bobby Abreu (+1.5) but Damon was tops at +5.6.

Based on past performance I'd have to go with Damon.

Dorasaga (Taipei, Taiwan): Dear Mr. Fox, Before my question, I must tell you that I have been a Cubs fan since my high school days in Niles, and I must say I really appreciate your blog piece on Goose Gossage. Now, about utilizing pitching f/x data: Your late piece on gyroball and Matsuzaka seems to bring light to the "deceit" of a pitch's movement. A surprising success of reliever Okajima last season had puzzled me. I tracked his pitching f/x data, and his pFx is weird. His pitches around upper 80mph moved WILDLY horizontally, ranging from a 10 to 15-inch apart from any trajectory line. I read mlbtraderumor's interview with Royal minor pitcher Brian Bannister. He talked about the sidespin of Jake Peavy's fastball that allows the pitch to move randomly and confuses batters. Is there any study on the effect of sidespin affecting batters' visualization of it? And had Okajima's pitches carry a similar, if not the same, effect of such pitches such as Peavy's or gyroball's?

Dan Fox: Wow good question.

After I saw your question I went and pulled down Hideki Okajima's PITCHf/x data. I have 573 pitches for him which go into the post season.

In perusing his cannonical pfx chart he throws his three primary pitches (fastball, changeup, and curve) probably 90% of the time with his fastball ranging from 85 to 90, his changeup high 70s to 85, and his curveball from the low to mid 70s.

But in looking at the chart his fastball doesn't seem to move too much horizontally as compared to other pitchers. It sits in the 0 to 5 inch range whereas many pitchers see a tail of 5 to 8 inches on their fastballs. His changeup does tail 5 to 9 inches or so and drop about 5 inches more than his fastball.

What you may have seen is that his vertical component for the fastball registers in the 10 to 15 inch range but you have to remember that those values represent the difference from a pitch thrown with no spin. So in other words his fastball has a "rise" of 10 to 15 inches as compared to a theoretical reference pitch. In reality most pitchers see a range of 8 to 13 inchdes in this component and so his fastball may ride a little more than some others (which would be attributed to more backspin, not side spin) but it certainly doesn't tail any more.

Since you mentioned Jake Peavy I should mention that John Walsh at THT has done some great work on calculating the run value of individual pitches which you'll probably want to check out. But to directly answer your question I haven't seen anything specific on side spin or visualization of that.

wileecoyote121 (larchmont, ny): There was a saying about some ball players (like Brooks Robinson, if I recall)that they weren't fast going from home to first, but could outrun anyone going from 1st to 3rd or 2nd to home. In your studies, did you find any clear examples of guys not known to have good footspeed but who were exceptionally good baserunners?

Dan Fox: Robin Yount and Glenn Beckert come to mind. George Brett did really well on tagging on fly balls.

On Yount you might want to check this out. I think I discussed Beckert in this column.

phil (Long Island): Why is it that Jeter seems to be at the center of any article written about fielding statistics?

Dan Fox: Because he's not good?

Seriously, this was the heart of the second and much smaller part of my piece "What Would Bacon Do?" In epitome, Jeter is such a good player in all other respects that people find it hard to believe that there is an aspect of his game that is not up to the same standards. This is augmented by the fact that our brains aren't really designed to make the kinds of subtle judgements over vast numbers of obervations that is required to judge defense correctly.

Or something like that...

Tim (Portland, OR): Thanks for the chat. My question to you is: how well do you think most major league teams do at recognizing advanced defensive metrics? There are some obvious examples of star-level hitters who have no business holding down their defensive position. Am I too focused on a handful of examples or is there a ways to go here in terms of adoption?

Dan Fox: Oh, I think most all teams understand and apply the advanced metrics (for example in the arbitration process).

But the question really is how in the larger picture does that player's defense effect the total value you're getting out of the position. Sometimes there may be an obvious way to hide that defender or mimimize their negative impact (moving Jeter to third and A-Rod to short) but often having a premium offensive player at a defensive position (Victor Martinez?, Mike Piazza) has a larger upside.

Rob (Andover, CT): Post this for Phil's benifit, if you like: Jeter is made out by many to be erfect, the point where pointing out a flaw is met with much wailing and rending of garments. It makes an excellent topic for that very reason. As a Yankee fan, it irritates me that people have to put DJ on such a pedastal. He's a legitimately great player, even with poor D. Bah.

Dan Fox: Well said.

Rob (Andover, CT): Thanks for your response. Jeter has had some nagging leg issues and I doubt those will vanish as he ages, so his time as a really good baserunner may be over. That ARod guy... the nerve he has, doing everything well. What a jerk. ;)

Dan Fox: Good point. Jeter was especially good in the 1998-2004 time frame.

He was:

1998 4.8
2000 5.2
2001 5.9
2002 7.3
2003 1.8
2004 3.9

Rob (Andover, CT): People used to say that about Bernie Williams (slow to accelerate, but once he got up to speed, real fast, hence 1st-3rd/home he was good). I wonder if it was really true...

Dan Fox: This is turning into a Yankees chat I guess (actually that's been on my mind since I'll be making my first and likely last trip to Yankee Stadium in May).

To measure what you're talking about we would look at EqHAR. In that metric Bernie Williams was ok but not spectacular:

1992 1.2
1993 2.3
1994 -1
1995 1
1996 .2
1997 .2
1998 1.5
2000 .6
2001 .8
2002 0
2003 -1.3
2004 .5
2005 -.5
2006 -1.5

Tony (Brooklyn, NY): Do you like the Yankees' bullpen approach of casting a wide net, or do they need to be more surgical and go out and find someone. Thanks!

Dan Fox: In general I really like the idea of quality from quantity when it comes to bullpen arms. The variability (as discussed in the Yankees essay in BP2K6 or 7 I believe) is such that sometimes that surgical approach leads to disaster.

jphan44 (NY): how are cano's fielding stats? does having jeter and cano up the middle hurt some of the yankee pitchers like wang?

Dan Fox: In both 2006 and 2007 I had Robinson Cano doing well at +7.8 and +9.1 respectively. The system didn't like him in 2005 when he was -6.1.

That said, in SFR the infielders next to you definitely have an effect on your SFR. I think we saw that this year with Garrett Atkins where he rated "only" -3.5 when other systems have him way down there with Ryan Braun.

stately (nyc): Enough about the Yankees.

Dan Fox: Got it.

mattymatty2000 (Philly, PA): Basic question here: what is it about center fielders that they can't throw?

Dan Fox: Good quesiton and a good one to end on. There are two different issues here...

Generally speaking I would think that centerfielders are selected primarily on attributes other than their throwing ability. The ability to cut hits off in the gap and run down fly balls is seen as more important and so the players you end up seeing play center are those who maximize those characteristics and necessarily will be more lacking in other characteristics. One of the cool things about creating throwing metrics is that it enables the cost/benefit analysis that goes with making those decisions.

There is a caveat however. The throwing metric that I created compares based on position and so centerfielders are compared with each other and not right fielders etc. That's why you'll see the separate tables when you crack open the annual (which I'm sure Amazon is delivering as we speak!). So those comparisons can technically only be made by position.

Dan Fox: As usual I couldn't get through all the questions but feel free to follow up on DanAgonistes.blogspot.com. Hope everyone has a great weekend!

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