Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT
Tuesday, February 17, 2004
 
The BEAT Goes On

I'm pleased to announce that Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT has become an official member of the All-Baseball.com network.

The new URL address for Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT is:

http://www.all-baseball.com/richbeat

The new RSS feed is as follows:

http://www.all-baseball.com/richbeat/index.xml

Eight months ago when I started Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT, I could not have envisioned joining up with Christian Ruzich (The Cub Reporter and The Transaction Guy), Alex Belth (Bronx Banter), Mike Carminati (Mike's Baseball Rants), Will Carroll (The Will Carroll Weblog), Mark McClusky (Baysball), Jon Weisman (Dodger Thoughts), Peter White (Mariner Musings), and Bryan Smith (Wait 'Til Next Year) in such an exciting and promising venture.

I'm honored to be associated with these talented writers, and I'm proud to call each and every fellow member a friend. The relationships that I have developed with writers and readers alike have meant a lot to me, and I look forward to building upon them in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

All-Baseball.com. Is there a more descriptive name for a baseball website than that? Our aim is to deliver baseball content that is distinctive, relevant, and entertaining to a growing base of readers. We want you to check in with us in the morning, during your coffee break, at lunchtime, and in the evening before, during, or after Baseball Tonight.

Effective immediately, all of my new columns will be found exclusively at this new site. Please reset your bookmarks and links at your convenience.

Thank you for your past patronage, and I hope to maintain your loyalty as we go forward.

"And the BEAT goes on, the BEAT goes on..."

Saturday, February 14, 2004
 
Dream Weaver

I've just closed my eyes again
Climbed aboard the dream weaver train
Driver take away my worries of today
And leave tomorrow behind

(chorus)
Ooh dream weaver
I believe you can get me through the night
Ooh dream weaver
I believe we can reach the morning light
Fly me high through the starry skies
Maybe to an astral plane
Cross the highways of fantasy
Help me to forget todays pain


--Gary Wright


I attended a baseball game between #9-ranked Long Beach State and #16-ranked University of Southern California on Friday night. The game was played in Long Beach at Blair Field, one of the most beautiful ballparks in the country. A school-record 3,163 fans attended the Dirtbags' home opener. It was a standing-room-only crowd except for those sitting atop the fire engine truck beyond the left field wall.





The sell-out crowd was treated with a dazzling performance by Jered Weaver, Long Beach's ace starter. Weaver struck out the first ten Trojans he faced, including four in the third inning. Ten up, ten down. All via strikeouts. The first six went down swinging on 0-2 and 1-2 pitches.

In the top of the third, Weaver continued his streak, getting Baron Frost to miss on a 0-2 pitch far outside the strike zone. The ball eluded Catcher Brad Davis and rolled to the backstop, allowing Frost to reach first base. The big right-hander proceeded to "K" Billy Hart (who served as USC's fourth-string QB last fall), Hector Estrella, and Jon Brewster, the latter for the second time in the first three innings.

Michael Moon then flied out to right field to lead off the fourth inning, ending Weaver's strikeout streak at ten. The All-American went on to whiff 14 Trojans in seven innings as Long Beach State defeated USC, 3-1. Relievers Brett Andrade and Neil Jamison combined for three strikeouts, tying the 49ers' record of 17 for the game.

Weaver opened his 2004 season last week, pitching seven shutouts innings while scattering three hits with no walks and six strikeouts. For his effort, Weaver was honored as Collegiate Baseball's National Player of the Week--the third time that he has won this award.

Big-Time Prospect

If you hadn't heard of Weaver before, you have now. If he remains healthy, look for him to go in the top five in this year's draft. Weaver is so advanced and such a dominant force that it would not surprise me if he pitched in the big leagues in 2005.

Weaver's pedigree (he's the younger brother of Dodger pitcher Jeff Weaver), size (6'6", 200), arm (low-90s fastball), and record make him as good a bet as any amateur pitcher to succeed as a professional.

I sat directly behind home plate among a sea of major league baseball scouts, surrounded by more radar guns than at a California Highway Patrol convention.

A Kansas City Royals scout sitting behind us told me that he "wouldn't rush" Weaver. When I asked him if he preferred high school or college players, he said "college" when it came to pitchers--noting that most arm injuries are incurred between the ages of 18-20.

When I mentioned Zack Greinke, the Royals' top pitching prospect and #1 draft pick in 2002, he just smiled. Greinke was drafted as a high schooler even though General Manager Allard Baird had instructed his staff that he wanted to select a college pitcher in the first round. The 20-year-old prized prospect dominated the Carolina League and acquitted himself well enough in the Texas League last year that he stands an outside chance of making the team this spring.

Weaver is actually a year older than Greinke. If the latter can make it to the big leagues this year, then why couldn't the former get there next year? Although Weaver may not have Greinke's professional experience, he has pieced together an incredible resume.

During his sophomore season, Weaver was 14-4 with a 1.96 ERA. He tied a school record with 144 strikeouts. Weaver then led Team USA to the silver medal in the Pan American Games. He went 4-1 with a USA single-season record 0.38 ERA and was named Baseball America's Pitcher of the Summer. Weaver strung together an all-time record scoreless innings streak of 45 before giving up his only two runs in an eight-inning loss to Cuba in the championship game.

Nothing But Dirtbags

Weaver was the fourth straight 49er to be named to Team USA, following teammate Abe Alvarez (2002), Jeremy Reed (2001), and Bobby Crosby (2000). Alvarez was selected by the Red Sox in last year's draft.

After the draft, Boston GM Theo Epstein said, "We were really happy to get Abe Alvarez. He's a first-round talent and we got him in the second round."

"Alvarez is a left-hander who has gone out for Long Beach State every Friday night for the last three years against other team's No. 1 starter. He's an outstanding performer. He has command of the strike zone and can get swings and misses with his changeup. He's an entertaining pitcher to watch."

Reed, a center fielder with the Chicago White Sox, and Crosby, a shortstop with the Oakland A's, are two of the favorites to capture Rookie of the Year honors in the American League this year. Reed and Crosby were named first team Minor League All-Stars in 2003.

Reed, who finished third in the Minor League Player of the Year voting, led all minor leaguers in batting average (.373) and on-base percentage (.453), splitting time between Single-A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham. Reed was rated the the second-best prospect in the Carolina League and the third-best prospect in the Southern League.

Crosby, who made his major league debut last September, batted .308 with 22 home runs and 90 RBI for Triple-A Sacramento. Crosby was voted the third-best prospect in the Pacific Coast League and was named Baseball America's Triple-A Player of the Year.

Other past National Team players from Long Beach State include current major leaguers Rocky Biddle (1995) of the Montreal Expos, Jason Giambi (1991, 1992) of the New York Yankees, and Chris Gomez (1990, 1991) of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Long Beach's baseball program has also produced Mike Gallo (Houston Astros), Jeff Leifer (Milwaukee Brewers), and Steve Trachsel (New York Mets) as well as Termel Sledge (Montreal Expos). Sledge, a 27-year-old rookie, had an outstanding season (.324, 22, 92) at Triple-A Edmonton last year and is expected to compete for the team's starting left field job this spring.

If you sold any of the above 49ers short, please be advised that it's not too late to climb aboard the Dream Weaver train.

Richard Lederer
Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT
www.baseballbeat.blogspot.com

Sunday, February 08, 2004
 
Weapons of Mass Production

Sabermetricians are guilty of developing too many Weapons of Mass Destruction. Too many stats. Too much confusion. It's time to get back to the basics. If we reduce the number of weapons (stats), then it follows we can reduce the amount of destruction (confusion).

Substitute Production for Destruction, and you've got Weapons of Mass Production. Production, in this case, is the original name for on base plus slugging. John Thorn and Pete Palmer of Total Baseball created the stat, shortening it to PRO. The authors also developed Production Plus (PRO+) before OPS+ was popularized by Baseball-Reference.com. Production Plus, like OPS+ in later years, normalizes PRO (or OPS) to league average and adjusts for home-park factor. A mark of 100 is a league-average performance.

Ted Williams in his book Ted Williams' Hit List (which was written in 1996) gave "special credence" to PRO in ranking the greatest hitters of all time.

"We looked at various systems and methods, and we can't conceive of anything superior to this one. It is a simple statistic that is nonetheless as fair, as thorough, and as thought-out as any that has ever been used.

I realize that everyone has a different idea of what constiutes a great hitter. For some it's a high batting average. For others it's the guy with the most total hits--or home runs or RBIs. I've always believed that slugging percentage plus on base percentage is absolutely the best way to rate the hitters. This is something I've been talking about for a long, long time. To begin with, I've always felt that the bases on balls factor should be given more significance in rating a hitter's overall performance at the plate."

The beauty of PRO is its accuracy and simplicity. You don't need to know advanced math. You don't even need a calculator. You just add the two most important rate stats and bingo, you've got your number. I realize if you multiply rather than add these two percentages, you get a product that has an ever so slightly higher correlation with runs scored. There have also been some newfangled attempts to use a multiplier for the on-base average before adding this adjusted number to the slugging percentage.

Why complicate a formula that works just fine as is? I don't see the need to create additional methodologies unless they prove to be sufficiently more accurate to make up for their additional complexity. Wouldn't it be much easier for all of us to hold more intelligent discussions if we adopted batting average, on-base average, and slugging average as the three main rate stats when evaluating or comparing players? If we could agree on those three metrics, then wouldn't it also make sense to use PRO or OPS as a "quick and dirty" solo stat? Gosh, if we could come to terms with BA, OBP, SLG, and OPS as the basic core set of rate stats, wouldn't OPS+ be understood by the average fan in due time? If so, wouldn't that be a great first step for evaluating and comparing players by positions or within a league or from one era to another?

Counting stats would be a whole different matter. I'm not proposing that we throw out traditional stats such as hits, doubles, triples, and home runs but anything that would wean fans from a myopic focus on runs batted in would be a positive in my mind. How about times on base, total bases, and outs as the three core counting stats? If we could agree on those categories, then something like Runs Created could serve as the summary counting stat just as OPS would do the same on the rate side.

The value of walks and power as well as the scarcity of outs would all become better understood and appreciated by baseball fans, announcers, writers, and analysts alike. For those of us who wish to look into the numbers even further, the use of related stats such as isolated power and secondary average or developing "new frontier" stats involving defense, pitching, and baserunning makes more sense than affixing another label to the same can of alphabet soup.

By the way, a couple of tables for those who think OPS is dated and not an accurate measure of offensive production:

ON BASE PLUS SLUGGING
TOP TEN SINGLE SEASONS
MODERN (1900-2003)

                              YEAR     OPS    

1 Barry Bonds 2002 1.381
2 Babe Ruth 1920 1.379
3 Barry Bonds 2001 1.379
4 Babe Ruth 1921 1.359
5 Babe Ruth 1923 1.309
6 Ted Williams 1941 1.287
7 Barry Bonds 2003 1.278
8 Babe Ruth 1927 1.258
9 Ted Williams 1957 1.257
10 Babe Ruth 1926 1.253

Not a bad list, huh? When I see nothing but Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams, I am reminded that we're talking about pretty exclusive company here.


OPS+
TOP TEN SINGLE SEASONS
MODERN (1900-2003)

                              YEAR    OPS+    

1 Barry Bonds 2002 275
2 Barry Bonds 2001 262
3 Babe Ruth 1920 255
4 Babe Ruth 1921 239
Babe Ruth 1923 239
6 Ted Williams 1941 235
7 Ted Williams 1957 233
8 Barry Bonds 2003 231
9 Babe Ruth 1926 227
10 Babe Ruth 1927 226

Adjusted or unadjusted. The monopoly of Bonds, Ruth, and Williams prevails.

One of the best features of OPS+ is the fact that it not only adjusts OPS for park effects but that it also standardizes it versus the league average. A player with an OPS+ of 120 is 20% above the league average OPS+. An OPS+ of 80 is 20% below the league average OPS+. [Editor's added note: OPS+ = 100 * ((OBP/lgOBP*) + (SLG/lgSLG*) - 1)]

Thanks to the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia, we can standardize all stats to the league average. The following is an example of the first table presented above with OPS expressed as a ratio versus the league average.

ON BASE PLUS SLUGGING
TOP TEN SINGLE SEASONS
RELATIVE TO THE LEAGUE AVERAGE
MODERN (1900-2003)

                              YEAR     RATE   PLAYER   LEAGUE   

1 Babe Ruth 1920 182 1.379 .757
2 Barry Bonds 2002 181 1.381 .763
3 Barry Bonds 2001 177 1.379 .781
4 Babe Ruth 1921 173 1.359 .786
5 Babe Ruth 1923 172 1.309 .761
6 Ted Williams 1957 171 1.257 .733
7 Ted Williams 1941 170 1.287 .758
8 Barry Bonds 2003 166 1.278 .772
9 Babe Ruth 1926 163 1.253 .768
10 Babe Ruth 1927 163 1.258 .773

The order is slightly different than the one not standardized to the league average, but the names remain the same.

Weapons of Mass Production. Batting average, on base average, slugging average, and OPS. Times on base, total bases, outs, and runs created. Four by four (and, thank goodness, not the rotisserie syle). Four rate stats and four counting stats.

These stats can be expressed in absolute terms for simplicity. They can be standardized to the league and positional average for comparative purposes. Or they can be normalized for home-park factors when necessary.

There are other worthwhile measurement tools for sure. But many of them are better applied to scouting and player development than evaluating actual performance.

The bottom line is that we should concentrate on reducing rather than expanding the batting metrics available to us. Having said that, I support the sabermetric community in its efforts to quantify defensive value, and I think there is still much more work ahead of us when it comes to computing baserunning as a separate area of performance.

Sources: Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia and Baseball-Reference.com.

Richard Lederer
Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT
www.baseballbeat.blogspot.com


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