Questioning batting average, 96 years ago

If you’ve read this site long enough, then you’re probably familiar with the idea of linear weights and wOBA. If not, then I suggest checking out Joe’s primer. In a post at the FanGraphs Community blog yesterday, Sam Menzin presented an article from the 1915 edition of Baseball Magazine (pdf link), in which author F.C. Lane questions the idea of batting average and its accuracy. Allow me to excerpt…

Lane opens his discussion with a question: “Suppose you asked a close personal friend how much change he had in his pocket and he replied, ‘Twelve coins,’ would you think you had learned much about the precise state of his exchequer?” He goes on to compare two mens’ respective financial situations: Man A, with “twelve coins” consisting of a combination of quarters, nickels, and dimes; and Man B, with twelve silver dollars. Saying both men have equal financial means is equivalent to the system of tracking batting averages, he explains. “One batter, we may say, made twelve singles, three or four of them of the scratchiest possible variety. The other also made twelve hits, but all of them were good ringing drives, clean cut and decisive, three of them were doubles, one a triple, and one a home run…Is there no way to separate the dimes from the nickels and give each its proper value?” Sound familiar?


This issue was not solely unique to Lane’s inquisitiveness. John Heydler, secretary and future president of the National League, added, “that the system of giving as much credit to singles as to home runs is inaccurate to that extent. But it has never seemed practicable to use any other system. How, for instance, are you going to give the comparative values of home runs and singles?”

Lane goes on to use an example of two players, one with a higher batting average and lots of singles and another with a lower batting average but lots of extra base hits. He compared each players’ hit rates (singles, doubles, triples, homers) to the league average, which is essentially an early version of wOBA and wRC+. It’s very fascinating stuff, a nearly hundred-year old article questioning the merits of a statistic still valued so highly today. I suggest clicking the links above and reading both articles, Lane’s and Menzin’s. I really can’t recommend it enough, it’s amazing stuff.

Full Disclosure: Our own Larry Koestler edited the post for Sam. Not that that means anything, just figured I’d mention it.

A modest proposal

Recently a friend and colleague of mine, Gregg, tried to sell me on an idea he’s been mulling over for quite some time. No, the idea doesn’t involve wife-swapping or eating our children; but rather, it’s a solution to the designated hitter debate. As it currently stands, each league plays to its own set of rules. Perhaps there is room for compromise though.

The Proposal

Both leagues would have a designated hitter. However, the designated hitter would only hit for the starting pitcher. Once the starting pitcher was removed from the game, the designated hitter would no longer be available.  The designated hitter spot would then be filled by whoever is on the mound (obviously forcing the manager to consider using a pinch hitter every time the DH is due). This would obviously force the manager into contemplating the double switch. Perhaps an additional roster spot could even added for further bench depth.

Here’s a practical example of how a scenario in this plan could play out:

A.J. Burnett is on the mound (this already sounds promising, eh?); the game is entering the top of the fifth, and up until this point Burnett’s surrendered a few runs but the team is still very much alive. Let’s pretend the score is tied up at three. As to be expected, Burnett’s pitch count is just about to surpass the century mark and the team is preparing itself for the obligatory meltdown. Jesus Montero (who was slotted into the roster as the DH) is expected to bat second in the bottom of the fifth.

Do the Yankees allow Burnett a little more leeway on the mound so that the heart of the order can have their at-bats in the bottom of the fifth? Or, does Girardi cut his losses, yank Burnett preemptively, and substitute Andruw Jones (or whichever bench player you prefer) into the game to bat in the fifth which will subsequently result in using a pinch hitter in that slot for the remainder of the game?

Possible “Pros:”

  1. Standardizes league rules.
  2. Allows for the DH to still have a role (which would obviously be required by the players’ union).  It might even create more jobs if teams were looking for an extra bat to add to their rosters.
  3. It makes the NL lineups deeper which could result in more exciting outcomes.
  4. Would encourage even more strategic decision making.
  5. Pitchers would not be hitting which would limit the “easy outs” and injuries.

Possible “Cons:”

  1. The DH value is minimized due to less at bats and a codependency on the pitcher.  Just think, in 605 plate appearances in 2011, David Ortiz earned a 4.2 fWAR by posting a .309/.398/.554 triple slash (.405 wOBA — seventh best in the league).  Imagine how frustrated Sox fans would be if he were limited to 350-400 plate appearances.
  2. Could encourage less lineup optimization (although admittedly, the net effect of this over the course of the season is minimal).
  3. Reduces some of the strategy currently deployed by NL pitchers (pitching around certain hitters intentionally to try and get to the opposing pitcher for the “assumed out”).
  4. Somewhat aggravates the purists who believe a pitcher is a player and should hit.
  5. Somewhat aggravates the reformists (is that what we want to call them?) who want to see strictly see a DH as the role is currently defined.

Personally, I’m still not sold on the idea as I tend to enjoy American League rules.  That said, it’s still a creative compromise that’s worth considering.  What’s your take?

How do you feel about the proposal?
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Open Thread: Veterans Day

I just want to take a second to say Happy Veterans Day to all you veterans out there, it’s the brave and wonderful people like you that let wimpy saps like me talk about baseball and post videos of Jonathan Papelbon blowing games against the Yankees all day. You guys are great.

Here’s tonight’s open thread. The Devils and Rangers are both in action tonight, but talk about anything you like here. Especially Papelbon blowing games. We’ll have to watch him do that in the other league now. Some more Papelblown videos after the jump…

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Girardi Stuff: Sabathia, Noesi, Pitching, Coaches, Montero

As the work week winds down, let’s round up some news and notes from Joe Girardi. Marc Carig spoke to the skipper recently, but here’s the really important stuff…

  • “I always thought that he’d be a Yankee and something would be worked out,” said Girardi when asked about re-signing CC Sabathia. “I’m glad I was right. I didn’t want to imagine life without CC.”
  • When asked about potential pitching reinforcements from the minors, the first name out of Girardi’s mouth was Hector Noesi. “Is it the ideal situation where we all think they have enough innings in the minor leagues? Maybe not,” said the skipper. ” Between the regular season and winter ball, Noesi is now up to 102.2 IP this season after throwing 160.1 IP in 2010.
  • Just as Brian Cashman said the other day, Girardi reiterated that it’s still too early in the process for him to begin making recruiting calls to free agents. I suspect we won’t hear about teams (not just the Yankees) getting serious with major free agents until the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is announced and everyone knows what’s up.
  • “If he wants to continue to play, and there’s not a spot here, I would encourage him to do it because as a player, you have to make sure all of that is out of you before you decide to retire,” said Girardi when asked about Jorge Posada. Jorge recently said he’s accepted that his Yankees career is over.
  • “I think our guys did a good job last year but these are things we need to sit down and discuss,” said Girardi in reference to his coaching staff. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild and hitting coach Kevin Long are in the middle of multi-year deals, but everyone else’s contract is up.
  • Jesus Montero‘s role next season is still to be determined. He could be the full-time DH, a part-time DH, the backup catcher, whatever you can think up. Girardi did say that Montero’s strong September showing leads him to believe he can have an impact next year.

The RAB Radio Show: November 11, 2011

Today we bring the newest member of RAB, Moshe Mandel, onto the show. It’s nice getting a third voice onto the podcast, at least in terms of recording and discussion. We hope you agree.

  • We lead off with the Yankees’ pursuit of, well, everyone. Are they just feeling out the market, or are they laying big plans?
  • Onto the smaller moves that have happened already, and a bigger one that wasn’t. We talk about how these moves affect the market going forward.
  • Another event that will affect the market: Yu Darvish getting posted. It’s no guarantee but it looks very likely. That will change how teams operate.
  • Caddy for A-Rod? We further the discussion from Mo’s article earlier this week.
  • And plenty of miscellany to fill time.

Podcast run time 42:32

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

  • Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
  • Listen in your browser by left clicking the above link or using the embedded player below.
  • Subscribe in iTunes. If you want to rate us that would be great. If you leave a nice review I’ll buy you a beer at a meet-up.

Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

Phillies sign Jonathan Papelbon

Jonathan Papelbon has faced the Yankees 46 times in his career, but it could be a long time until he reaches appearance No. 47. After spending the first seven seasons of his big league career with the Red Sox, Papelbon will pitch for the Phillies in 2012 and beyond. Jim Salisbury of Comcast SportsNet reports that the Phillies have signed Papelbon to be their closer. That pushes out Ryan Madson, with whom the Phillies reportedly had a deal earlier in the week. That apparently was a false report and was never as far along as reports indicted. There’s no word on contract terms yet, but that’s just a matter of time. Papelbon is one face that Yankees fans won’t mind missing, though he has been part to some of our favorite comebacks in the past few years.

Update (2:39 p.m.): Salisbury tweets that the deal is “four years and approaches $50 million.” That’s definitely the kind of payday Papelbon has repeatedly said he seeks in free agency.