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Just The Sports: I'm Not Convinced

Just The Sports

Sunday, April 30, 2006

I'm Not Convinced

Maybe I am wrong in bashing this article. Maybe this is going to be the statistic that re-revolutionizes the way the world looks at walks and on-base percentage and slugging percentage and I am just too stupid to get it, but even still, this article shows a poor understanding of baseball statistics.

In this walk-happy age, bases on balls are routinely seen as victories for the hitter.

And they are because the hitter gets on base, which is the whole point of going up to bat in the first place.

On-base percentage rewards those who draw the most walks, and the most popular new statistic, on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS), neatly reflects the hitter's ability to get on base and the skill of driving in runs.

Well, you are half right, Alan Schwarz. OPS does reflect a hitter's ability to get on base because of on-base percentage. However, OPS has nothing to do with measuring a hitter's skill in driving in runs. That is what RBI is for. Perhaps you think slugging percentage has something to do with the number of RBI a player has. If you think this, you would be incorrect. Slugging percentage is a measure of the total number of bases a player accumulates per at-bat and only takes into account what the individual hitter is doing. Whether or not the player inadvertently drives in a run while he is hitting a double has no bearing on said player's slugging percentage. Are we clear on that now? Yes? Good.

But walking and slugging are not independent of each other;

Except that they completely are. Walks are not a factor in the slugging percentage formula. Only singles, doubles, triples, homers, and at-bats are. This means a player could get a walk and neither increase nor decrease his slugging percentage. That is what we in the statistical field like to call mutually exclusive.

the best batters, like Barry Bonds and Pujols, often find their on-base percentages artificially raised by pitchers walking them to sidestep their dangerously high slugging percentages.

In no way do walks "articifically" raise a baseball player's on-base percentage. On-base percentage determines the rate at which a player gets on base in relation to his at-bats. And since walks are a part of getting on-base, it really doesn't get any more real than that.

Neft prefers to view walks somewhat backward, through the eyes of the pitcher. In figuring what he calls on-base advantage, walks (and times hit by pitch) are weighted not as full-unit successes for the batter, but by their marginal benefit beyond the batter's sidestepped slugging percentage.

There is a logical fallacy behind this argument. Walks, unintentional or intentional, are always successes for the batter because as I mentioned previously, the basic point of being a hitter is to get on base. A walk of a particular hitter may not be a success for the team because the team may have a lesser hitter behind the player who gets walked who will be unable to get a hit, but should the hitter who gets walked have to see his stats suffer because of that? Of course not. Slugging percentage is not a team statistic, unless it is the slugging percentage for the whole team. Otherwise, slugging percentage is purely about the individual batter.

Neft, the creator of the on-base advantage statistic, also seems confused as to what slugging percentage measures. It is almost as if he thinks slugging percentage is the percentage a player will get an extra-base hit at any given at-bat. Like if a player's slugging percentage is .500, then the player will get a extra-base hit 50% of the time. What it really means is that a player's total bases from his hits come up to only half of his at-bats. Neft is confusing batting average with slugging percentage.

Batting average is the number one reason why walks are really so fatal. Let's say a batter a pitcher is facing is a very good one and he is hitting .330. Well, that means that 67% of the time the batter will not even get a hit and can get on base only after being walked or hit by a pitch, the exact things Neft is applauding pitches for doing. He is actually advocating walking more hitters instead of pitchers going with 65-75% rates of success in getting a hitter out.

For example, walks for Pujols are worth only .110 to him (1 minus his gargantuan .890 slugging percentage entering Friday's games). To a less brawny batter like his St. Louis teammate Yadier Molina, walks are worth .792 (1 minus .208).

Again, ridiculous. Walks are still worth 1.000 in on-base percentage to Pujols and Molina, no matter what they are slugging.

What the walks are worth to the team is another matter.

However jarring to those riding the modern walk bandwagon, Neft's refinement makes perfect sense.

No, it does not.

From the pitcher's standpoint, a batter expected to slug 1.000, on average, should always be walked because his average hit is more damaging than a walk.

Albert Pujols goes 1 for 4 in a game and he hits one home run. His slugging percentage is 1.000 (1*4/4). His on-base percentage is .250. His batting average is .250. If he is walked four times, his on-base percentage is 1.000, meaning that every inning Pujols is walked, the pitcher will be pitching with at least one baserunner. I am not even taking into consideration what could happen if Pujols's teammates were to get any hits or walks behind him. In other words, walking a batter can be just as damaging as a hit.

True, his average hit, in this case a home run, would be more damaging than a walk. However, his average at-bat would not be. His average at-bat would be an out. See the difference?

The higher the slugging percentage, the less costly the walk.

Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong. No one knows how costly that walk will end up being. You are presupposing that the pitcher will automatically get the next batter out and I am presupposing that before you wrote this article, you were an idiot.

In contrast, players who rarely walk, like the Blue Jays' Alex Rios and the Rangers' Kevin Mench, move up in the rankings because their slugging is unleashed more often.

Their likelihood to record an out is also unleashed more often.

Neft said that because pitchers can choose whom to avoid to set up a lesser challenge, "rating them by OPS allowed doesn't work."

Wrong again. OPS allowed is a great indicator for how good a pitcher is. The best pitchers in the game will have the lowest OPS allowed.

Maddux exemplifies how the successful pitcher reallocates risk. With men in scoring position and two out since 2003, Maddux has allowed a lower slugging percentage — despite pitching from the stretch — while his walks have skyrocketed. Hitters have a higher OPS in those situations against him, but he has walked the right batters.

Mr. Schwarz probably doubted anyone would double check these stats to make sure he was painting an accurate portrait. If so, he vastly underestimated my desire to point a finger at his idiocy.

Still, his wording leaves me a little confused because I have no idea what he is comparing Maddux's numbers to. His OPS is higher than what? Higher than when runners are just in scoring position?

Scoring Position, Two Out: .729 OPS
Scoring Position: .734 OPS

No, I guess not. Maybe he meant higher than when there are runners on base.

Scoring Position, Two Out: .729 OPS
Runners On: .777 OPS

Guess it's not that one either. So he's probably comparing it to when no one is on base at all, although to do so is a little like comparing an AK-47 to a pea shooter.

Scoring Position, Two Out: .729 OPS
None on: .707 OPS

Remember how I told you how OPS has nothing to do with reflecting a player's skill in driving in runs and that Schwarz was wrong for thinking it did? Just looking at the two OPS's, one wouldn't think there'd be that big a difference in runs scored. But here are the runs Maddux gave up in the two situations, after he "walked the right batters." For the record, with no one on base, Maddux walked a batter every 50.5 at-bats. With runnings in scoring position, he walked a batter every 7.3 at-bats.

None On: 127 runs allowed in 1616 at-bats (1 run/12.7 at-bats)
Scoring Position, Two Out: 151 runs in 262 at-bats (1 run/1.7 at-bats)

Oh yeah, Maddux really walked the right batters.


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