Julien's Faster than Light Blog

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007
mission accomplished
well, i'm done. i've figured out baseball. i don't expect to do more blogging. i'm happy to answer questions, but i've never gotten many, so i don't expect them. my email address can be found in the faq.

most of my findings are contained in these pages, but i'll summarize them here. winning in baseball comes from two things: talent and strategy. talent can be judged with statistics and observation. strategy is judged mostly by observation, but some information can be found in the numbers. we'll talk about talent and then we'll talk about strategy.

talent. pitching talent is based on stuff, command, and control. stuff can be judged through observation. a pitcher who throws hard has obvious stuff. the other component of stuff is movement. if you watch enough games, you'll be able to recognize how pitches move and what constitutes good movement.

statistically, stuff shows up most in strikeout rates. i use contact percentage, because it separates out the results of bad control. strikeouts per innings pitched is useful, but it is compromised by the variability of hit rates. a hit is a failed opportunity for a strikeout, which does not show up in the strikeouts per innings metric.

stuff can also show up in power percentage (pow). these numbers are not easy to get for pitchers, so i usually use home run percentage (hrp). home runs per inning is also good. a player with a good sinker, for example, or a good curveball, will allow fewer home runs.

command is the ability to throw a pitch well. a curveball that curves, a slider that slides. pitchers with poor command often have high home run percentages (hrp) because their pitches hang in the zone.

control is the ability to throw a pitch where you want it. the most obvious measure of control is walk percentage (wal), but not walking people is not the only aspect of control. you also want to avoid home runs. combining walk percentage with home run percentage will give a good picture of control.

control is also important in strikeouts, though. good control allows you to get ahead in the count, which allows for more strikeout attempts. also, a pitch on the edge of the strike zone is harder to hit than a pitch in the middle of the strike zone.

hitting talent is based on pitch recognition, contact ability, and power. pitch recognition can be judged by observation. if you see a player laying off bad pitches, and taking good swings, you figure he has good pitch recognition. pitch recognition often shows up in walk percentage (wal) and power percentage (pow). a player who has good pitch recognition is more likely to drive one. sometimes players with good pitch recognition do not have good walk percentages because they are too aggressive. also, sometimes players with good pitch recognition do not have good power percentages because they are not naturally strong. they will have better than expected batting averages, though, assuming they can make contact.

contact ability is difficult to judge through observation. obviously, if a player is hanging in there against a dominant pitcher and consistently making contact, he has contact ability, but that situation does not often come up. results are so variable that it's hard to tell whether a player has talent, or is lucky. contact ability is best judged through contact percentage (con). a player with high contact percentage can obviously make contact. a player with a low contact percentage has trouble with contact, but if WAL and CON are both low the problem may not be contact, but an overaggressive approach.

if a player has low WAL and CON but high POW, this is the classic indicator of a player with talent who could increase his contact percentage with a patient approach.

power is best judged by power percentage (pow). players with more home runs than doubles tend to have an uppercut swing. an uppercut swing makes more sense as power increases. a player with high CON and high POW will have a high average.

defense can be judged by observation, and by various metrics such as clay davenport's work on baseball prospectus, or bill james's win shares.

strategy is difficult to measure with statistics. there are few analysts, and few players even, who understand strategy. strategy is a matter of game theory, on which there has been some statistical work done, and on game analysis, which is a matter of understanding the game and analyzing the decisions on a risk/reward basis.

baseball strategy is infinitely complex. here are the basics:

pitchers want to get ahead in the count. against patient hitters, that means you must throw strikes. against aggressive hitters, you don't necessarily have to throw strikes, but you still should early in the count because you don't want to get behind. everybody knows it's bad to get behind in the count, but many pitchers still do it. which means they don't understand how bad it is. kyle davies is terrible about this. it doesn't matter if you have bad control. you have to throw a strike. maybe he'll get a hit, but if he puts the ball in play, he might get out. if he walks, he won't. if you throw a strike he might hit a home run, but that's not so bad. it's only bad if there are runners on base. which there will be if you walk them.

so you have to throw strikes. you see kyle pitch against patient hitters, and the catcher sets up on the edge of the zone, and he misses the plate by a foot. there's no way the hitter's gonna swing at that. so you're starting off in a 1-0 hole. then he does it again.

then when you're behind 2-0 or 3-1, you have to make a perfect pitch. this is the most dangerous spot because the hitter knows what's coming, so he's more likely to hit it hard. so the thing you were trying to avoid, the hit, is now more likely, and the walk is more likely. this is death.

you just can't do it. you just can't get behind in the count. greg maddux understands this. so does david wells. so does curt schilling. many pitchers do not. those that do not are afraid of hits. you can't be afraid of hits. you have to give your defense a chance.

further examples of pitching strategy involve understanding the hitter and pitching in such a way as to keep the hitter off balance and exploit his weaknesses. this is an infinite subject. let's move on to hitting.

hitting. in general, you want a patient approach. there's a battle going on with the pitcher, and the way to win is to walk. your goal at the plate is to get the pitcher to walk you. you want to take any pitch that you cannot drive, and put the pressure on the pitcher to throw strikes. because throwing strikes is hard. make the pitcher work.

there are certain talented, aggressive pitchers against whom you have to swing hard at the first good pitch you see. but those are the exception. in general, you want to wait. the more wild the pitcher is, the more patient you want to be.

if a pitcher is committed to not walking you, you have to pick a pitch and hit it. but you should never swing at a pitch that is not in the middle of the zone, unless there are two strikes. pitchers throw pitches that are not strikes all the time, and batters let them get away with it because they swing. don't swing. if it's on the edge of the zone, still don't swing because you're not going to hit it hard.

most batters do not think strategically. they wanna get a hit, so they swing. they don't understand that to win is to get on base. even with a 3-2 count, you should strike out looking sometimes because you want to get on base. you take pitches to get on base.

most pitchers are afraid to throw strikes, because they're afraid of a hit. use that fear to your advantage. take a walk.

the biggest strategical problem for hitters is swinging at strikes that are not in the middle of the zone. you shouldn't swing at these pitches, because if you hit it, you'll probably be out, and if you don't you'll be behind in the count. if you take it, you still might walk. the biggest risk of swinging is that you might be out.

i know it's hard to recognize pitches, but when in doubt, take it. there's just too much swinging in the game. it makes it too easy on the pitchers.

further aspects of hitting strategy involve thinking along with the pitcher and making reads on his level of fear and aggression, to decide what the best opportunity is. ultimately, you want to score runs.

defensive strategy is easy to understand but takes a lifetime to master. you want to stand where the hitter is likely to hit it, and do what you can to get outs. your second priority is to prevent runners from moving.

defense is my favorite aspect of the game.

that concludes the summary of my findings. thanks to all my readers, because without an audience there is no expression.
Sorry to hear your blog has come to an end. I stumbled upon it last year when I was doing some baseball prospect searching. I loved the analysis you provided. I hope you are up and running next spring. It was a very interesting read.
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