Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Component ERA is on the traditional side for this guy?

I'm going to wind my way to a comment on the new GM of the Pirates, Neal Huntington.

I inherited a rooting interest in two baseball teams, the Giants and the Pirates, which are the hometown teams of my father and mother, respectively. I've always pulled for those teams aside from my one rebellious stage, the Great Yankee Apostasy of the last 70s, about which the less said the better.

The GYA ended during Game Four of the 1979 World Series, a game six-year-old I watched with my dad from the very last row of the upper deck in Three Rivers Stadium. The Pirates lost the game, but the crowd swept me into a durable affection for the team, even after the days of Willie Stargell (my favorite player for the rest of childhood) had long faded away.

The Pirates began and sustained their ongoing, record-shattering streak of losing seasons by combining a small-payroll strategy with traditionalist management. That is, they spent limited resources on the commodities that the market of the time most overvalued. Hence the signings of Pat Meares, twice, Derek Bell, Charlie Hayes, and others of their ilk. During the 1990s, the main online discussion board for Pirates fans turned into a place where statheaded fans gathered to savage then-GM Cam Bonifay and to imagine what a more enlightened GM would do with a player like Aramis Ramirez. Here is a typical conversation from 1999 in which I participated.

The Pirates were extremely slow to give Ramirez a job, and they never appreciated him. In 2003, they ended the Cubs' famous string of terrible third basemen by handing them a 25-year-old Ramirez for Jose Hernandez and a couple of minor-league nobodies. Oh, and the Pirates threw in Kenny Lofton. Ramirez has been a well above-average hitter ever since. Though he did play oddly well for the Dodgers the following year, Hernandez would never again play 100 games in a season.

In those days, the Pirates drove statheads crazy by failing to appreciate basic statheaded principles: the value of plate discipline, the value of minor league performance, the importance of a player's age, and so forth. Things have never gotten much better.

But now, lookee here. The new GM says,

We are going to utilize several objective measures of player performance to evaluate and develop players. We'll rely on the more traditional objective evaluations: OPS (on base percentage plus slugging percentage) , WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched), Runs Created, ERC (Component ERA), GB/FB (ground ball to fly ball ratio), K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings), K/BB (strikeouts to walks ratio), BB%, etc., but we'll also look to rely on some of the more recent variations: VORP (value over replacement player), Relative Performance, EqAve (equivalent average), EqOBP (equivalent on base percentage), EqSLG (equivalent slugging percentage), BIP% (balls put into play percentage), wOBA (weighted on base average), Range Factor, PMR (probabilistic model of range) and Zone Rating.

Zoikes! For the first time this century, I'm very interested in what the Pirates will do next.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Fixing revenue sharing

Michael "not the Moneyball guy" Lewis has a column in the New York Times proposing a reform for revenue sharing that would punish teams for lazy freeloading. Such a reform seems essential to me: the free rider problem has become grotesque in some cases, and not just in baseball. I wish Lewis painted the problem a little more vividly, and it's hard to tell whether his formula gets a solution exactly right, but he certainly seems to be talking sense. I hope many more writers join in the conversation.