You Can Throw Your Calculators AwayPosted: March 23, 2010
What’s My Point?
Sabermetrics is the analysis of baseball through objective evidence, especially baseball statistics that measure in-game activity. The term is derived from the acronym SABR, which stands for Society for American Baseball Research. But professional baseball is not feeding sabermetrics the correct data for their conclusions.
Why Does it Matter?
The term “Garbage in, Garbage out” is the most accurate description I can give. If the sample used is garbage, then the answers won’t be accurate. Sabermetrics requires accurate information or organizations may misinterpret the data.
Grandpa and The Center of Percussion
My Grandpa was a rocket scientist. He worked for Rockwell most of his life and he is the one who taught me about baseball. The first thing I remember him teaching me was what he called “the center of percussion.” Grandpa took a bat and balanced it lengthwise on his finger. He then said,
“Morgan, the mid point between my finger and the end of the bat’s barrel is the center of percussion.” I said, “Center of percussion? What’s that Grandpa?” He smiled and said, “The SWEET SPOT!”
I was 10.
When I was 14, he came home with a computer printout that he had been working on to teach me about launch angles.
“Morgan, see this chart? This chart tells us how far you hit the ball according to the pitcher’s velocity, your bat speed, and launch angle.” I said, “Can Grandma make me a milkshake?”
After Grandma made me a milkshake, we sat down and he explained to me that math and physics would be able to teach me what I needed to do to have the best outcome at the plate. I said, “That’s cool.”
Grandpa was sitting on his chair when he said,
“Morgan. What is the most important stat in baseball?” I said, with zero conviction, “Batting average?” Grandpa smiled and said, “Runs Produced.”
Grandpa hadn’t realized that I had never heard of that statistic. Nor did he know that there was no “Runs Produced” statistic on the back of my 1986 Topps Daryl Strawberry rookie card that my Grandma had bought for me.
He told me to add my RBI to Runs and then subtract Home Runs. I said,
“Why do you subtract Home Runs?” Grandpa smiled, “We are trying to isolate the absolute number of Runs you produced and your Home Run is accounted for with one of your Runs.” I said, “Cool.”
He went on to explain to me that I can take that number and divide it by my At Bats and that number would give me an indication of how many runs I was expected to produce based on a single at bat. It changed my life.
Selected in the 61st Round of the 1994 Amateur Baseball Player Draft…Morgan Ensberg
Rodney Davis was a former player and scout for the Seattle Mariners. Towards the end of my senior year in High School, Rodney came over to my house to have dinner with my family and I to tell us about professional baseball. But, apparently he also came over to see if the rumors that I was a basketball player were true. We went over to the park and played 1 on 1. After the game he said that he was surprised with how well I moved on the court. He also said, “We would like you to go to Junior College and get 200 AB’s. We think you walk too much.” I told him that I had never heard that before and that I don’t try and draw walks, I only know how to hit mistakes. I loved Rodney, he wasn’t against walking at all. He was saying that he needed a bigger sample to evaluate the type of player I was.
You Are to Sit on the 2-1 Change-up!
Mike Gillespie was my coach at the University of Southern California. He opened my eyes to baseball data. Players charted the opposing pitchers’ velocity, pitch type, and location. He would then take this information and compile it season over season. For every game he usually had one specific flaw in the opposing pitcher’s repertoire that we needed to exploit if we were in the right situation.
Sitting in the locker room before a game he would say,
“The pitcher’s name is Johnson. He has a fastball, curveball, and change (change up). He will throw 1st pitch off-speed. Now listen to me on this one… Now hear me on this one… He is 12 for 12 throwing a change up 2 and 1. You are to sit on that… You are to sell out and believe it is coming… If I see you swing at anything except a change up there, I will revoke your scholarship. You will go back home and live in your parents’ basement.”
I loved it! He was very serious, but also funny, and he wanted to be clear with us that this was the best way to win the game. He was teaching us that if you had the right information, you could gain an advantage and win. By the way, he couldn’t take my scholarship away from me, because I didn’t have one. I was a “walk on.”
I Don’t Care…Just Get the Bunt Down
This was all of the information given to me about bunting in minor league ball. Did the coaches care where we bunted the ball? Did they want us to show the bunt early or show the bunt late? As you can imagine, we were terrible at bunting and nobody really knew how to sacrifice effectively.
“The data on the MIG is inaccurate,” Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, Top Gun
In this scene, “Charlie,” played by Kelly McGillis, is a civil defense contractor whose job it is to study the capabilities of the enemies’ jets. She later says, “The MIG 28 cannot do a 4G negative dive.” Maverick and his friend “Goose,” played by Anthony Edwards, immediately look at each other and exchange puzzled looks. They start talking. Charlie interrupts Maverick and Goose and asks if there is a question.
“We just so happened to go up against a MIG 28 in a 4G negative dive.” Charlie says, “Lieutenant the Pentagon sees to it that we know more than you.” Maverick looks back with a smile and says, “Well, it doesn’t seem so in this case.”
The Data in Your Sabermetrics is Inaccurate
Sabermetrics is being limited by the quality of information that is being provided. What is great about this system is that it gives you an absolute value for effectiveness. Sabermetrics doesn’t care if you sacrifice the runner over or not. But, it will tell you how effective you are at sacrifice bunting. However, Sabermetrics is calculating the outcomes instead of calculating the process possibilities.
So What are We Supposed to Look at Smart Guy or Should I Call You Maverick?
I need to know the probability of success when sacrifice bunting a ball in a 5 foot by 5 foot box that stops 20 feet from home plate and no more that 5 feet from the foul line (this can be either foul line).
I need to know the probability of success when sacrifice bunting in that spot when a batter shows the bunt as the pitcher comes set (early) vs. showing the bunt as the pitcher begins his delivery (late).
I need to know the probability of success when showing the bunt early and pulling the bat back to slash. A slash is where the player pulls the bat from a bunting position back to a hitting position and tries to hit the ball to the side of the charging infielder.
But what I really need to know is the opposing pitcher’s pitch and location when the batter shows the bunt early. This will allow me to tell my batter what to expect when he is up there trying to get this bunt or slash down.
I need to know the probability of my opponent throwing a fastball away so that I can anticipate which middle infielder will cover second if I put the runner in motion for a hit and run in this sacrifice situation.
Maverick and Charlie End Up Together
Sabermetrics verifies mathematically what it takes to win a baseball game. This analysis is correct. But baseball players have to help you identify nuances that can only be found by playing the game. Your genius will be perfected when you can show us the probability of bunting a ball in a location that baseball players know will move the runner 100% of the time. Your ability to prove if a batter should show a bunt early or late is the type of information we need.
Grandpa proved to me that I should evaluate my performances based on Sabermetric principles when I was 10. I just didn’t need a calculator to believe in it.