Monday, January 19, 2009

Happy MLK Day

Sabermetrics 101: Fielding Statistics

Don't worry, there is very little math involved this time.

For many years, sabermetricians ignored fielding, at least partially because it was so much harder to quantify compared to hitting.

The original fielding metric is fielding percentage, (outs + assists)/(outs + assists + errors). That was fine in the 1800s, when it's been argued that players weren't expected to catch anything that wasn't hit right at them. To this day, errors are still subject to the opinion of the official scorer, as witnessed recently by CC Sabathia's lost no hitter on a bunt single and Orlando Cabrera's in-game call to the press box to have an error changed to a hit.

So errors and fielding percentage are probably not the best way to judge a fielder. Then, what is? Arguably, there are two ways to do so: noting whether a fielder got to a ball (or whether they should have), and whether they actually fielded it once they got there. (Throwing ability - accuracy and strength - are another issue, but we won't go into that today.) Brian Cartwright wrote an excellent piece for Fangraphs the other day, explaining why fielders with poor range are better at actually fielding the ball, and vice-versa.

Other Fielding Statistics

As mentioned above, sabermetricians avoided fielding for a long time because it was difficult to quantify. Now, a variety of fielding measures exist, and still we have none that stands head and shoulders above the rest. Here are just a few metrics that exist today.
  • Range Factor: Bill James' first crack at a fielding statistic, Range Factor is the number of plays a fielder makes per nine innings. In other words, it's basically the fielding equivalent of ERA. Of course, like ERA the system has its drawbacks. For example, the type of pitcher (flyball vs. ground ball) will affect the number of chances a fielder has in a game.

  • Zone Rating: STATS Inc. divided the field into zones and calculates Zone Rating as the number of outs made in a fielder's designated zones divided by the total number of balls hit into that zone.

  • John Dewan's Plus/Minus: Like many of these fielding stats, Plus/Minus involves watching video of every single play over the course of a season and charting whether a fielder should have made the play. In this case, Baseball Info Solutions (BIS) assigns a "plus" for every play made that someone else at that position didn't make, and a "minus" for every play not made that someone else at that position made.

  • Probabilistic Model of Range: Created by Dave Pinto, a former ESPN and STATS, Inc. statistician, PMR is another way of comparing a fielder's performance relative to his peers. PMR views the field as a right angle, and breaks fielding down by angle relative to the foul lines. That information can be used to create graphs like this one, which shows that in 2008, Grady Sizemore was slightly above average (compared to other center fielders) on fly balls hit to his right, but slightly below average on flies to his left.

  • Ultimate Zone Rating: A continuation of Zone Rating, Mitchel Lichtman's UZR is actually calculated two ways: using BIS's data and using STATS Inc.'s data. Here is a comparison of the two UZR ratings and PMR.

  • Fan Scouting Report: For those of you that don't like math at all (except for counting), this is the stat for you. Tangotiger's Fan Scouting Report is a crowdsourced scouting report that ranks fielders in terms of instincts, first step, speed, hands, release, arm strength, and throwing accuracy.

  • : If the Fan Scouting Report is perfect for those who don't like math, than Colin Wyers' graphs are perfoect for those who don't even like words. Colin simply took the location of every fielded ball and plotted it on a graph, with a baseball field laid as the backround. Here's a comparison of Troy Tulowitzki and Derek Jeter's 2007 fielding.

The Next Steps

Fielding statistics still have many unsolved questions, but two of the main issues are determining a fielder's starting position, and determining teammates' influence on fielding statistics.

The comments of this thread have a discussion of fielders' starting position. As the charting and video coverage of games improve (PitchF/X, HitF/X, and the work BIS and STATS do), this area will improve as well. Of course, starting position needs to be taken in context. If a fielder is always standing in the right place at the right time, they certainly should get credit for knowing where to stand (or at least his coaches should get credit). But standing in the right place means he won't have as far to run to get to a ball, and therefore it will seem as if he doesn't have much range. So statisticians will have to be careful not to punish him for that.

Another issue is the affect teammates have on each other. For example, on a ball hit between the first and second baseman, the first baseman has the first attempt at the ball because he's positioned closer to first base. A second baseman would only have a chance at the ball if the first baseman couldn't get to it.

Take a look at the PMR ground ball charts for Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Albert Pujols, and Aaron Miles. At first it looks like Miles is below average at ground balls towards first base. But perhaps that is because Pujols is getting to many of the balls that normally would have gone through to his second baseman. Likewise, Chase Utley appears to be great at getting ground balls towards first base, but only because Ryan Howard is below average at fielding balls in that direction. Trade Utley for Miles (a move the Phillies surely would never make), and you would probably see Utley's PMR decline and Miles' improve.

Of course, PMR also does not indicate starting position. Knowing that Howard isn't a great fielder, maybe Utley positions himself a little closer to first base to make up for it. And maybe Miles positions himself a little farther from second base to account for Pujols' range. But if that was the case, you would expect Utley to have below-average performance on balls hit towards second base, and Miles to have above-average performance. In reality, the graphs show that Utley is above average in both directions, while Miles is only average on balls hit towards second base. So, Utley had a phenomenal 2008 in the field, a fact corroborated by his unheard of +47 rating in John Dewan's Plus/Minus system.

The Jhonny Peralta Problem

One of the big questions for Cleveland Indians fans is Jhonny Peralta's defense. Most fans want him to move to third base, but in the past I have suggested a move to second base.

How does Peralta rate as a shortstop? According to PMR (2006, 2007, 2008), he's actually around average on grounders, and maybe even a little above average on fly balls and liners. But UZR gives him a negative rating for every year after his rookie season.

Working on the assumption that he's a below-average shortstop (even if that disagrees with PMR), where should he move? As per this discussion, shortstop is the most difficult position on the field besides catcher. So a move anywhere would improve Peralta's defense, in theory. In his limited time at third, Peralta has been at least average according to PMR and UZR.

There is no data on Peralta at second because he hasn't played there, but there is the Fan Scouting Report. Peralta's 2008 report says he has excellent arm strength, very good throwing accuracy, and almost average hands and release (with 50 being average in all categories). He also has poor ratings in instincts, first step, and speed. First step and speed are more important to a second baseman than arm strength and quick release, so we can probably rule out moving Peralta there. The combination of arm strength, accuracy, hands, and release are exactly what to look for in a third baseman. Instincts would arguably be nice as well, but the hot corner is as much about reaction as it is about instinct.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

A 72-year-old woman recently discovered a rare baseball card from 1869. It has been authenticated as an official Jamie Moyer rookie card.

Jason Giambi has promised to bring his infamous gold thong back to Oakland. It will be the second most pointless thing in his locker, just behind his glove.

Pacman Jones plans to sue ESPN over allegations that he arranged to have three men shot at an Atlanta nightclub. It should be interesting for him to finally be on the other side of a lawsuit.

The Kansas City Royals have announced plans to make major renovations to Kauffman Stadium. They'll be able to afford a lot, what with all the money they save by not fielding a baseball team.

And TNT analyst Charles Barkley is taking a leave of absence from the broadcast chair. The chair is thrilled.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

The Titans are upset that a delay-of-game penalty was not called during the Ravens winning drive last Sunday. So much time had elapsed on that play, Jeff Fisher actually grew back his mullet.

Quarterback Tim Tebow is returning to Florida, turning down a great opportunity to become Ryan Leaf.

Pacman Jones said his days in Dallas aren't necessarily over. Partly because hes not allowed to leave the state. Texas farmers are hoping Jones sticks around, since they need someone to make it rain.

And Philadelphia QB Donovan McNabb got in trouble when he picked up the Giants bench phone after he went out of bounds. In his defense, McNabb was just calling the league office to ask how overtime works.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

Rickey Henderson has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. That is a direct quote from Rickey Henderson. Henderson's induction will mean a great thing for baseball  namely that he'll stop talking about a comeback.

The Detroit Lions have interviewed Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz for their coaching vacancy. Interview is a polite way of saying, "begged."

Knicks center Eddy Curry has been accused of trying to solicit gay sex from his driver. It's a surprising accusation for a player who's never shown much interest in sticking to his man.

And coach Tony Dungy retired from the Colts. Just a few weeks after the rest of his team.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

Kentucky guard Jodie Meeks scored a school record 54 points in a rousing victory over Tennessee. Meeks later topped his record by inheriting the earth.

Herm Edwards could return as head coach of the Chiefs. In a related story, Herm Edwards might be clinically insane.

The Detroit Tigers have signed Taiwanese pitcher Fu-Te Ni to a multimillion dollar contract. The Tigers were livid to discover that Ni was just a cheap knock off, made in Taiwan.

Former Dallas receiver Michael Irvin says two gunmen approached his car but drove off after they talked about the Cowboys. What are the odds that two gunmen would be Cowboys fans?

And the Lions have reached out to Dolphins assistant coach Todd Bowles regarding their coaching vacancy. The news comes as a surprise to many insiders who thought the team would already be onto the "C" section of the phonebook.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

Federal officials said that there are no credible threats for the upcoming Super Bowl. There was the possibility that the stadium could dramatically implode, but that already happened to the Giants.

Knicks center Eddy Curry is considering a defamation suit against his former driver. Given his expanding waistline, it's probably much smaller than his other suits.

Kate Hudson has been spotted on dates with Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez and PGA golfer Adam Scott during the past week. Alyssa Milano must be on vacation.

In honor of the big game coming up, Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahll is temporarily changing his name to Luke Steelerstahll. In a similar move, Disney is re-releasing "Remember the Titans" under the new title "Remember the Three Red Zone Turnovers."

And T-Mobile has terminated their relationship with Charles Barkley due to his recent DUI arrest. T-Mobile was jealous, since Barkley has more bars.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

The Cleveland Cavaliers have won all 17 home games thus far. That makes them the only 12 people who enjoy being in Cleveland.

Houston has fired three coaches including defensive coordinator Richard Smith. The last time this many Texans were axed, Davy Crockett was there.

The Chicago Cubs have signed Aaron Miles to a two-year contract. Which is perfect, because last year they were miles away from a championship.

Chad Pennington has been named the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year for the second time in three seasons. So when he stinks next year, he can win it again after that.

And Colts quarterback Peyton Manning has been named the NFL's Most Valuable Player for the third time in his career. His first round loss gives him plenty of time to polish the trophy.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

The Mets are reportedly uninterested in signing Andruw Jones. What a shame - at his weight, he could play left and center field.

John Daly has been suspended for six months by the PGA tour. Luckily for him, he's expected to find plenty of work with the AA tour. Daly plans on using his time off to complete half a binge.

The Bobcats are reportedly interested in rotund center Eddy Curry. Not as their new center, but as their new mascot uniform.

And a construction worker at the new Yankee Stadium was taken to a hospital after falling off a mobile scaffold. The collapse was so sudden, it was almost like he was employed by the Mets.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

Former American Gladiators star Nitro has admitted to using steroids while he was on the show in the early 90's. In related news, scientists have discovered that water is wet and chocolate is delicious.

Major League Baseball suspended Philadelphia's J.C. Romero for 50 games after ruling him "negligent." Using the same charge, the Mets suspended the guy who opens the door to their bullpen.

Scott Pioli, the vice president for player personnel with the Patriots, interviewed with the Kansas City Chiefs about their GM position. Pioli might instead take an easier job, like healing lepers or turning water into wine.

Andy Pettitte has rejected the Yankees' one-year, $10 million offer. Pettitte said he refused to be paid less than the team's bat boy.

And the Green Bay Packers fired six of their coaches. And since the exit was guarded by the team's defense, all six walked out untouched.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

The Seattle Mariners have acquired Tyler Walker to be their new closer. His job will be to lock up the bullpen after everyone leaves.

Shaquille O'Neal has just re-listed his Miami Beach estate for $25 million, which is $10 million less than its original asking price. A Shaq product hasn't fetched this little interest since Kazaam.

Carmelo Anthony recently hurt his hand in a win over Indiana. The injury is especially disconcerting for Anthony since it's his rolling hand.

Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski is expected to be fired after interviewing with the New York Jets. Not because of disloyalty, but because it's now obvious that he lacks good decision-making skills.

And Alex Rodriquez was recently spotted getting close with 60-year-old fashion designer Donna Karan. At the rate hes going, his next girlfriend might be a pile of dust.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

The Dallas Cowboys have released troubled cornerback Pacman Jones. Who, oddly enough, was the least of their problems.

David Beckham is currently charging $700,000 per interview. Which is $350,000 for every interesting thing he has to say.

WNBA star Candace Parker is expecting her first child this spring, making her the first professional basketball player in history to take part in a planned pregnancy.

Jason Giambi said that being back in Oakland brings back a lot of memories. Mainly because BALCO is right nearby.

And Warren Sapp recently challenged Michael Phelps to a televised swimming duel. Sapp was doing surprisingly well until the harpoon got him.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Cleveland Indians WAR Spreadsheet

Thanks to the hard-working Sky Kalkman over at Beyond the Boxscore, here's a spreadsheet of the Indians 2009 predicted Wins Above Replacement (WAR).

Some notes:
  • For hitting and pitching, I used the CHONE projections. On Sky's suggestion, I also used the quick-and-dirty formula (OBP*1.75 + SLG)/3 to approximate wOBA.

  • I included Luis Valbuena on offense to get closer to the "recommended" number of outs. As you can see, I'm still short. I'm not doing this as an endorsement of Valbuena over Barfield; CHONE has nearly identical plate appearances and wOBA for the two, making them interchangeable for the purposes of this exercise. I did leave out Andy Marte, since the popular assumption is that his time in Cleveland is short.

  • While my spreadsheet falls short of the recommended outs on offense, adding players (and therefore outs) actually increases offensive WAR in most cases. So, take this as a low-end projection.

  • Baserunning numbers are from Baseball Prospectus's EqBRR. I just used the 2008 numbers, so obviously there's room for improvement there.

  • For fielding, I used UZR from Fangraphs. I took a straight average of each player's UZR from 2006-2008 (when available). Obviously, a weighted average probably would have been better.

  • I also ignored position when taking UZR. This is mostly because I'm convinced the Indians will try some experimenting on the infield to get it right. But at the same time, I didn't want to guess how many innings each player would log at each position.

  • For the rotation, I started with the four known quantities - Lee, Carmona, Pavano (who will hopefully top that inning projection), and Reyes. Then I started filling in the best available players based on the CHONES until I got to the recommended inning count.

  • For the relievers, I followed the current depth chart until I got to the recommended number of innings. But that doesn't necessarily mean I endorse that depth chart.

What does this all mean? If I filled in the spreadsheet correctly, the Indians project to a 90 win team. That's right on the cusp of the playoffs, which is exactly where the Indians want to be.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Class of 2009

We had decent voter turnout this year, 8. Again due to the diversity of nominees, I set the induction threshold at 4 votes, and four individuals met that mark.

Buck O'Neil: He's a hall of famer to me, and that's alright with him.

Erin: She was already awesome. And then she agreed to marry me.

Fr. Edmund P. "Ned" Joyce, CSC: In Andy's words, Fr. Joyce is the ultimate sidekick, and as Aflac pointed out, he " advanced the causes of ND athletics, and has a building named after him that has hosted commencements, presidents, career fairs, basketball games, hockey games, boxing matches, volleyball games, U2, and racquetball "matches" between Aflac, Yonto, Katy, and the light fixture."

Fr. Edward Sorin, CSC: Without him, there literally would be no Notre Dame. And without Notre Dame, where would any of us be?

Now, the also rans. Also always, those that received multiple votes will get one carryover vote next year.

Brady Quinn2I'm starting to think he was even more amazing then people realized at the time
F-bomb2Why not? I'm just sayin'
Klondike2noted sport creator/improver
Knute Rockne2FOOTBALL!
Rebecca Rose Hatton2
Aflac Duck1Gave me a nickname. Poses interesting trivia questions. Still contributing to cancer research.
Happy New Year!1I just ran out of focus here...especially after celebrating the previous vote!
bill belichick1An interesting coach who seems to hire assistants who are just good enough not to take his job
Coach Jackson1another #1
Detroit Red Wings1
Evan Sharpley's shoes1
Fair Catch Corby1I have a mini version of that statue on my bookshelf!
Golden Tate1
Jerome Bettis1ND alum, Super Bowl winner, Restaurant owner.
Joe Posnanski1
JOHN GOCHNAUR1according to Google Gochnaur could be arguably the worst baseball player ever
Kuntz's hair1
Maurice Crum Jr.1all heart on and off the field
Michael Floyd1might as well just put him in now... and hope he does have a Kamara-esque soph year
Michael Phelps1
Mike Anello1for Heisman
Mr. T1
Owen Sixteen1star of the Detroit Lions
Peyton Manning1
Regis Philbin1The definition of fired-up-old-guy.
Sam Sanchez 1
Steve Yzerman1
Touchdown Jesus1Think anyone will get confused when people start yelling "Touchdown Crist!"?
women's soccer team/dynasty1even if they don't win it all this year, 3 straight final fours, and keeping Grace Hall lit up all semester is appreciated

Saturday, January 03, 2009

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

The Lions slipped to 0-15 after losing 42-7 to the Saints. On the positive side, the team is just one more loss away from a massive congressional bailout.

After their loss this weekend, the Dallas Cowboys' playoff hopes look bleak. But the city's strip clubs are looking forward to an early start to their busy season.

46-year-old Evander Holyfield lost his bid to regain the heavyweight belt when he fell to Nikolai Valuev. Holyfield is so old he was just offered an extension from Penn State.

Herm Edwards said that he's not quitting as coach of the Chiefs. Which is great, for anyone whose fantasy league includes points for futility.

And a woman has pleaded no contest to stalking Lakers forward Luke Walton. The California resident has been sentenced to three years' probation, told to attend counseling, and encouraged to set her sights a little bit higher.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

Vince Young is suing former major leaguer Enos Cabell for trying to use the initials "VY" and the nickname "Invinceable" to sell products without his permission. To retaliate, Young will be marketing products with the initials "EC" and the nickname "Irrelevant."

Barry Bonds recently told TMZ that he's still "not retired." Which is unfortunate because America is "not interested."

Pittsburgh Pirates star Jack Wilson said that to compete, the team needs more quality players. And steroids. And four outs per inning. And for other teams to forfeit.

Chicago is excited for the Blackhawks' hockey game at Wrigley Field next month. Though fans are being warned that it's going to be so cold, it will be what hell feels like when the Cubs win a World Series.

And NASCAR has announced it will begin testing its drivers for performance-enhancing substances in January. Drivers will be tested for 13 different narcotics, ten different barbiturates and seven varieties of moonshine.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

Members of the San Francisco 49ers grew moustaches this weekend to go along with their throwback uniforms. But since it is San Francisco, wearing a costume and growing a mustache is hardly expected to stand out.

Tom Brady is rumored to have proposed to his girlfriend Gisele Bundchen on Christmas Eve. It's nice to hear that at least one Patriot will be getting a ring this year.

The New York Yankees have signed back-up catcher Kevin Cash. They plan to use half a billion of him to pay for their other free agents.

MMA fighter Justin Eilers was killed in a domestic dispute, marking the third such death in MMA. This proves what boxers have long since known: fighting at home is not always an advantage.

And a winless Detroit Lion was quoted calling their final game against Green Bay, "our super bowl". They're right  in that the winner won't play another game til next season.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

LaDanian Tomlinson reported he may have hurt his groin in the Chargers 52-21 win over the Broncos. This is convenient as now San Diego has only been in the playoffs for a day, and they already have their excuse for the inevitable collapse.

The Denver Broncos became the first NFL team to ever lead a division for 16 weeks and not make the playoffs. To commemorate the event, they will officially change their name to the Mets.

Louisiana Tech beat Northern Illinois to win the Independence Bowl. Yeah, we are soooo glad there's no playoff system.

The Red Sox agreed to terms with Brad Penny. He would have signed with the Yankees, but they said his name indicates that he's nine million dollars and ninety nine cents below their pay grade.

And a sports medicine clinic in Houston will remove Roger Clemens' name from their building. In a similar story, management will remove Jose Canseco's name from his shirt at Jiffy Lube.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit