Archive for February, 2012

How A Six Fingered Man Led to the Beginning of VFTB

Monday, February 27th, 2012

VFTB is here today because of the extra finger of former Cub, Antonio Alfonseca

I was told that I have to tell the story of how I owe it all to Antonio Alfonseca. He is the reason VFTB is here today. I warned then that it’s not very interesting story, and I’ll warn again just in case you didn’t hear it the first tine. Still here? Alright, here’s how it happened. In 2003, I was incredibly into the season, for obvious reasons. I remember watching on the couch in October as the Cubs were just five outs away. I remember actually turning to my wife, who for some reason was on the couch next to me doing homework that the Cubs were just five outs away. We all know what happened after that. I went into a week  of mourning after that and finally decided to end it by searching for a picture of Alfonseca’s six fingers. I wanted to be that sick person that gawked and gaped over the traffic accident. Instead, what I found was a Cub blog no longer in existence. Blogging was still in the infant stages at that point. For the next few days I began to read what this writer had to say about the team and thought to myself “I can do that.” The rest is history. I started the blog on Blogger and it’s been all downhill since then. I’ve been fired up and burned out by Cubs baseball since then, but I’ve always enjoyed logging on each day and seeing the community we’ve built. You guys make this fun to do each and every day.

Now that we have that out of the way, I wanted to address one of the problems I see with the site. I try not to moderate what goes on in the comment section, and for the most part we’ve seen a very tame community develop as a result. My one problem is the arguing that goes on when we discuss stats vs scouts. It’s the age old debate on which is the better way to evaluate the game that is played. People take it so personal and get very upset at the other side’s viewpoints. That said, I’d like to ask that we all agree that the stats people are never going to agree with the scouts and the scouts will never agree with the stats. That means Jedi is never going to see eye to eye with Norm on how to look at players….which is fine. What isn’t fine is how old it’s getting seeing the name calling and arguing as if the other side will come around. I’d like to ask that if you like stats, debate stats with the stat people. If you like scouts, leave the stats people alone. If you like Scouts, then debate that with the scouts people, with stats people staying out of the discussion. In other words, ignore the people who don’t evaluate talent the same way you do….please.

It’s not much of a Morning news post, but then again it wasn’t supposed to be. Since I feel bad with no news at all to this point, I’ll leave you with this.

Moneyball was completely shutout at the Oscar’s on Sunday night. If you’ve not seen the film yet, go do yourself a favor and rent it. You will not be disappointed.

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How Well Do Advanced Defensive Statistics Correlate?

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

by John Dewan

We’ve put a lot of effort into improving defensive metrics in recent years, but how much progress have we really made? In the introduction to The Fielding Bible—Volume III, I said:

“For hitters, we might be at the 85-90 percent mark of being able to measure offense. We have a lot of good tools like OPS (on-base plus slugging), Runs Created, Wins Above Replacement. For pitchers, we are not quite as far along. Maybe we’re at the 75 percent level of understanding pitcher effectiveness with our numerical tools like ERA, Batting Average on Balls in Play, and Opponent OPS. For defense, ten years ago we were probably around the 10th percentile. Now with three volumes of The Fielding Bible under our belts, plus the work of many other excellent sabermetricians, we are probably in the 60-70 percent range.”

In our book, The Fielding Bible—Volume III, we put our newest defensive analytics to the test. If our statistics are measuring something meaningful, we would expect them to correlate well from year to year. In other words, since Evan Longoria topped all third basemen with 20 Defensive Runs Saved in 2010, we would expect him to remain one of the league’s top defenders at the position in subsequent seasons. (Longoria saved an estimated 22 runs in the field in 2011, also a league-leading total.)

To measure the consistency of our Defensive Runs Saved numbers, we calculated what we’ll call Even/Odd Year Correlations. We added each fielder’s Runs Saved totals from 2006, 2008, and 2010 and compared to the subtotal from 2007, 2009, and 2011, with the requirement that the fielder have amassed at least 667 innings in both subsets. We would expect the players with higher totals in even years to also have high totals in odd years, while players with low totals in even years should also tend to have low totals in odd years.

By calculating the correlation coefficient of the even and odd year totals, we can measure just how consistent our statistics are. Correlation coefficients range from -1.0 to 1.0 and show relationships between two sets of numbers. A correlation coefficient of 1.0 represents a perfectly predictable relationship. For instance, if every fielder had the same number of Runs Saved in both even and odd seasons, that would produce a correlation of 1.0. On the other hand, a correlation coefficient of zero means that there is no measurable relationship, while a correlation coefficient of -1.0 signifies an inverse relationship between the sets of numbers.

Defensive Runs Saved produced an Even/Odd Year Correlation of .59. This high, positive correlation value indicates a strong relationship between even and odd season totals and a good consistency in measuring fielders’ value. But, how does this compare to traditional hitting and pitching statistics?

Even/Odd Year Correlation Coefficients for Commonly Cited Statistics



Batting Average




Defensive Runs Saved


As you can see, both batting average and ERA also produce high positive Even/Odd Year correlations, though Defensive Runs Saved correlates better than both. (We used a minimum of 150 innings or 500 at bats in both subtotals for pitching and hitting statistics, respectively, although the correlations didn’t change much when we adjusted the minimum cutoffs in either direction.)

Comparing our defensive analytics to batting average and ERA, which have been the staples of analytics in baseball for the first 100 years of its existence, we find that our Defensive Runs Saved system is a better way to measure defense than are batting average to measure offense and ERA to measure pitching.

Of course, we now have more advanced measures of hitting and pitching performance. Let’s see how well a few other statistics correlate between even and odd seasons.

Even/Odd Year Correlation Coefficients for Additional Statistics



Home Runs




Pitcher Strikeouts per 9 Innings


Pitcher Walks per 9 Innings


Opponent OPS


Home runs correlate at .83, indicating a very strong correlation between even and odd seasons. OPS correlates at .69, and Opponent OPS, which for me is the most important pitching statistic, correlates at .61.

We are at the point where our defensive analytics are nearly as reliable as offensive and pitching analytics. Just looking at the single best statistic in each: OPS is .69, Opponent OPS is .61, Defensive Runs Saved is .59. We’ve come a long way.

Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®,

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GO: Baseball Books

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

For those of us always looking for a good read, tell us about some of your favorite baseball books (fiction or non!)


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The Best Baseball Movie You’ve Never Heard Of

Friday, February 24th, 2012

It’s not easy to make a good baseball movie.  The relatively slow pace of the game rarely matches up well with the fast-paced rhythms of most modern films.  Don’t get me wrong–baseball movies are plenty exciting for baseball fans.  But for the casual observer, there’s not a lot of drama in a routine fly balls and deep pitch counts.  As a sport, baseball has more in common with a novel than the film based on that novel.

That’s why so many classic baseball movies aren’t entirely about baseball.  They spend a substantial amount of screen time (if not the majority of it) focused on off-the-field subplots to compensate for the supposed tedium of the in-game action.  Bull Durham wastes a bunch of time on an unnecessary (and unpleasant) love triangle.  The Sandlot yanks the storyline away from the field at the midpoint, and only makes it back for a short epilogue.  Every time the baseball action picks up in For the Love of the Game, the lovely Kelly Preston goes on another angry crying jag.  And Field of Dreams–considered by many to be the best baseball movie ever–is  really just a mid-life crisis fairy tale that uses baseball as an awkward plot device.*

*Sorry guys, it’s true.

Other beloved baseball movies keep the action closer to the field, but stretch the viewer’s suspension of disbelief well beyond the breaking point.  A League of Their Own is a good example–the film is certainly about baseball (with a side order of Girl Power), but it suffers from several glaring breaks with reality.  It’s a real struggle to believe even for two hours that Rosie O’Donnell can play an effective third base.  That Madonna can cover all the ground in center field.  That Lori Petty is a woman.

Major League, Rookie of the Year, The Scout, Angels in the Outfield, Ed, and even (gasp) The Natural all suffer from a similar loose grip on reality that at least partially spoils the believability of the on-the-field portions of the film.  I’m not saying baseball must only be depicted in the most accurate and reverent way possible–I’m too much of a Naked Gun fan to ever argue for that.  But it’s rare to find a movie that unapologetically focuses on baseball and takes it seriously.

Which brings me to what might be the best baseball movie you’ve never heard of: Pastime. 

Released in 1990, Pastime is the story of two ballplayers whose lives and careers briefly intersect in the minor leagues in 1957.  It had a limited theatrical run**, but it did make an impact at the Sundance Film Festival, where it received the Audience Award in 1991 (under it’s original title, One Cup of Coffee).  It also earned five Independent Spirit Award nominations the following year.

**Full disclosure: I had the pleasure of first seeing this film as a child during it’s abbreviated theatrical run because the producer/director is friends with my father.  However, there’s no incentive for me to endorse the movie–in fact, he doesn’t even know I’m writing this post.  But if our casual association makes you think I can’t write an unbiased review, well… sorry.

The film stars William Russ*** as veteran pitcher Roy Dean Bream, reliever for the Tri City Steamers.  At forty-one years old, Bream is a baseball lifer holding onto his last playing days in the central California D League.  His best baseball is long behind him, but his knowledge and his youthful exuberance for the game still make him an asset to his team–at least in the mind of his manager, Clyde Bigby, played by Noble Willingham.****  Bream doesn’t fit in well with the rest of his teammates, who cover the usual stock ballplayer character types–the preening infielder, the hot-headed starter, etc.  Pressuring Bigby to unload the aging pitcher is frustrated team owner Peter LaPorte, played by the always entertaining Jeffery Tambor.*****  In a great sequence early in the film, Tambor struggles to juggle all the roles of a small town minor league baseball executive–general manager, in-game announcer, and hot dog vendor.

***Russ is most famous for his roles as the loving, supportive father on the long-running ABC series Boy Meets World, and the racist dad in American History X.  What can I say–the dude is versatile.

****Willingham is a long-time character actor who has made a career out of playing lovable, crusty old authority figures.  Walker, Texas Ranger fans will immediately recognize him as retired Ranger and saloon owner C.D. Parker.  Everyone else… well, they need to watch more Walker.

*****Tambor has enjoyed a lengthy career playing many memorable characters–none more so than perpetual butt-of-the-joke Hank Kingsley on The Larry Sanders Show, and George Sr., the incarcerated patriarch of the Bluth family on Arrested Development.  I am a big Jeffery Tambor fan, and this movie might be where it all started.

You get the sense early on that the Steamers are the kind of team where talent and potential go to die.  Each man knows his future hinges on playing his way out of town, and the tension and frustration of not being promoted is palpable.  The D League in 1957 would be similar to Rookie league today–an entry level no one wants to linger in for too long.  Hanging on to the fringes of professional baseball, you’re competing against your opponents and your teammates to advance up the ladder.

Into this tinderbox of frustration and unfulfilled potential comes seventeen year-old flamethrower Tyrone Debray, played by Glenn Plummer.******  Literally fresh off the bus, Debray shows up with the kind of self-evident talent will soon be his ticket out of town.  As the youngest man and the only black player on his team, Tyrone wears his intimidation and shyness on his face and in his posture.

******Plummer is another face you might recognize.  In my household, he’ll always be know for this role and for his brief appearance in Speed.  He was the guy whose car was commandeered, damaged, and ultimately totaled by Keanu Reeves.  “You… you broke my car.”

Where Roy Dean’s age separates him from the rest of the Steamers, Tyrone’s race also makes him an outsider.  As loners on the fringes of the team, they form a fast friendship that becomes the heart of the film.  Roy Dean has someone to listen to his stories of past success and glory, and all the baseball wisdom and experience he’s accumulated finally finds an outlet.  Tyrone gets an unexpected friend and mentor, building up the confidence he sorely lacks.  While their career trajectories are heading in opposite directions, it’s clear they share a consuming love for baseball and a deep appreciation for the ability to play the game for a living.  As Roy Dean points out, “Some guys have to get up every morning and go to work in an office.”

If nothing else, stick around long enough for the scene where Roy Dean tells a wide-eyed Tyrone about his short stint in the majors–“just a cup of coffee”–pitching for the Cubs against Stan Musial.  Russ tells the story like he’s told it a thousand times before, and his words have all the wrinkled and ragged qualities of the newspaper clipping Roy Dean keeps as proof of his major league career.

And if none of that grabs you, this might: Pastime is a visual holiday for baseball historians.  The background of many scenes is littered with Hall of Fame ballplayers.  Ernie Banks, Harmon Killebrew, Don Newcombe, Bill Mazeroski, Duke Snider, and Bob Feller all make blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos.  Also, the final scene of the film was the last thing shot in old Comiskey Park on the day before it was torn down.

I can’t promise you that Pastime will be the best baseball movie you’ve ever seen.  It doesn’t reach for the manufactured emotional highs of some of the films mentioned above–there are no magic bats or mystical cornfields here.  It’s not trying to sweep you off your feet.  It’s a quiet story about the real life triumphs and tragedies of baseball, grounded in a reality that will feel instantly familiar.  And in that regard at least, it’s a home run.

Pastime is available on Netflix Instant View and for purchase here.

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Morning News: Children, Delusional “Ace”, and a Drunk Pirate

Friday, February 24th, 2012


Cubs For Your Kids If you envy Raker, Seymour, Cap’n and the rest of their fantasy camping pals – just know that the Cubs are providing the a similar opportunity during the coming summer, in Chicago. FOR KIDS.

Ryan Braun “Exonerated” We’ll almost certainly never know all the facts in the Ryan Braun failed drug test saga. This much is clear, he will NOT be serving a suspension for whatever happened (or didn’t happen). Braun did not dispute (directly) the test results, rather his gripe had to do with the custodial procedure of his sample.  Sadly, we’re all left wondering if herpes was the culprit here – and if medication to treat that affliction was the source of his synthetic testosterone.

Not a conspiracy theorist, but this is terrible PR for Selig. Former owner of the Brewers, often accused of favoring anything that benefits them and the first time a guy has a suspension overturned it just happens to be the reigning NL MVP from his former team. (This is the type of situation where Jim Gray’s pompous and self-important demeanor can be used for “good” – no way Gray let’s Braun off the hook easy.  Don’t like Jim Gray, don’t like Ryan Braun; I’d clear my schedule to watch that interview.)

Delusional Roy Oswalt Preface: Roy Oswalt is a really good pitcher, some might even call him great. Please don’t forget I said this. Main Point: Roy Oswalt is a delusional crazy person who clearly doesn’t have anyone willing to tell him the unvarnished truth. His career is (and has been) in decline. The days of multi-year mega-deals for Oswalt has passed. It seems as though his ability to dictate his own terms have passed as well.  Yet almost as soon as 2011 ended, Oswalt maneuvered himself into a corner. Eventually it became obvious that he preferred Texas or St. Louis. Unfortunately, neither team had the money and the motivation for such a move. Now he’s saying that he’ll sit out the first part of the season and “stay ready.”  What he means is, “check the standings on July 1st, I’ll be interested in teams with a real shot at winning, especially if they have deep pockets.”

Conclusion: My sense is that Oswalt thinks he’s a Roger Clemens type of guy who can dictate the terms of his employment even at an advanced age and in obvious decline. Maybe 4 years ago he was, but he’s not anymore. I pity the GM that swoops in to snag him in July and gets hung with a multi-year deal on a 34-year-old pitcher.  Apparently he wants to play for a winner; but the rest of his thought process is horribly flawed.  Neither team had extra rotation spots to fill, or piles of money to pass out.  (And no, I don’t want Oswalt as a Cub – his career numbers at Wrigley are atrocious.  If he’s bad when he’s FACING the Cubs, imagine what’ll happen when players from other teams step into the batter’s box).

Drunk Pirate This story is a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. Turn to page 72 if you understand why being the Pirates team president would require a drunken stupor most of the time. Turn to page 85 if you sympathize with a man who earns his living with no real hope of being told “you’ve transformed things around here in a positive way.” Turn to page 107 if you think the Pirates can lose that many games this year. Or Turn to page 142 if you think “…driving the wrong way…” is a metaphor for the Pirates’ last 20 years.

All Hail Keith Law It wouldn’t be the Friday Morning News if I didn’t link to an ESPN Insider article. You’re Welcome! HRH Keith Law runs down the Top 50 draft picks for 2012. We’re just a bit more than 3 months away from the draft and the Cubs have 4 of the Top 64 picks. If nothing else, it’s a good list of names – I’m partial to Stryker Trahan and Rio Ruiz. And just to be clear, Law’s ranking is perfect; I haven’t a single disagreement with his ranking at all.

Peyton Manning to Miami? Here’s the “story” and it’s not much of a story. But Peyton, Brandon Marshall and perhaps Reggie Wayne (who did time at Miami in college) would be a rather formidable passing attack. Andrew Luck is rubbing his neck beard in delight.

Best Buy Hacked Just beware if you’re in a Best Buy and near the TVs with your kids. Pervs are everywhere.

Lawn Dart Exposé Apparently lawn darts are alive and well. Easily obtainable on Amazon. You’re welcome, Seymour.

Join VFTB March Madness Lizzie, Joe, and CAPS are in…who else is ready? We’re about 2 weeks away from Selection Sunday where 58 teams are invited to join the 10 teams that have a realistic shot at winning it all. Go to Lizzie’s post from yesterday for instructions!

P.M. Post I don’t want to completely spoil Jeremiah’s post, but if you haven’t already figured out what you’re doing tonight after work get ready to carve out some time for a baseball movie that can be streamed on Netflix. I can 1) almost guarantee you’ve never heard of it, and 2) almost guarantee you’ll like it. I said almost! Check back in around 2pm EST/11am PST.

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