View From The Bleachers

Talking Cubs Baseball Since 2003

Thursday

22

March 2012

117

COMMENTS

Reed Johnson: The Fourth Outfielder

Written by , Posted in General

Following a sub-par 2010 season with the Dodgers, the Cubs brought Reed Johnson back to the friendly confines on a minor league deal in 2010. Johnson won a spot on the active roster during spring training, and rewarded the Cubs by posting a .309/.346/.467 in 266 plate appearances. The Cubs then rewarded Johnson by bringing him back for $1.15 million this season.

Following a strong return to the Cubs in 2011, the Cubs brought Reed Johnson back as their fourth outfielder. Can a repeat of his 2011 results reasonably be expected? If not, what is his role with the Cubs?

Johnson was actually not expected to be the fourth outfielder in 2011. That role was supposed to be filled by Tyler Colvin, who many anticipated would get fairly regular playing time against right handed pitchers in both corners of the outfield, as well as some spot duty for Marlon Byrd in center field. Barring injury, Johnson was only expected to get regular playing time subbing for Kosuke Fukudome against left handed pitchers. But a typically hot start by Kosuke Fukudome and a 10 home run April by Alfonso Soriano provided only limited playing time for Colvin, who struggled mightily all season and spent much of the year in Iowa.

Johnson, on the other hand, had his best offensive season since at least 2008, and Mike Quade clearly considered Johnson his fourth outfielder by the end of April. With that said, no one should expect Reed Johnson to be able to match his 2011 numbers, particularly against right handed pitchers. For his career, Reed Johnson has posted a .266/.324/.382 against right handed pitching. In 2011, Johnson put up a .312/.361/.468 in 157 plate appearances against right handed pitching.

How did Johnson do this? As is typical in an outlier year with a small sample size of plate appearances, the answer is BABIP. Johnson posted a .410 BABIP against right handed pitchers last season. The odds of him repeating that performance are extraordinarily slim.

It would be more reasonable to expect Johnson to put up numbers in line with his .305/.330/.467 against left handed pitching in 2011, with significantly worse numbers more indicative of his career averages against right handed pitching.

This doesn’t mean that Johnson has no value to the 2012 Cubs. David DeJesus, who will be the regular starter in right field against right handed pitching, struggles against left handed pitching. And while age has reduced Johnson to a fringy fielder in center, he is still solid in both corner outfield positions.

Considering Dave Sappelt and Tony Campana are essentially ready to fulfill their roles as career bench outfielders, this is likely Reed Johnson’s last season with the Cubs. But Johnson is the sort of guy the Cubs might want to transition to their coaching staff if he retires after the season. He is a smart player who has turned pretty unremarkable tools into a ten year major league career, and guys like that tend to make pretty good coaches.  Johnson is also an easy player to root for, which I will be more than happy to do in a season that will probably be his swan song with the Cubs.

  • Tommy

    Doesn’t seem Reed was paid what his contributions are worth.
    In a perfect universe, Soriano would give him a couple of his million.

  • Norm Bothwell

    I think Sappelt is the next Reed Johnson for the team.

  • Joe Aiello

    .410 BABIP is Ridonkulous. It must be the facial hair. There is always power in the facial hair.

  • Chuck

    If there is a spot on the bench open, Reed is the type of player I would like to have around.  He is a professional ball player.  While he is not a star, he can be productive if used properly, he does not complain about playing time, he plays hard on defense, he seems to be an upbeat person.  All of these traits are a positive influence on young players.  He is the bizarro Milton Bradley.

  • Chuck

    If there is a spot on the bench open, Reed is the type of player I would like to have around.  He is a professional ball player.  While he is not a star, he can be productive if used properly, he does not complain about playing time, he plays hard on defense, he seems to be an upbeat person.  All of these traits are a positive influence on young players.  He is the bizarro Milton Bradley.

  • Doc Raker

    How did Reed Johnson accomplish a 50 point increase in batting average verse righties? He posted a higher BABIP…………………OK but why did he post a higher BABIP? Did he change his approach and square up more balls? Did he change his swing? Did he hit more balls to a certain field that would indicate a change in approach? Did he play against a bunch of Randy’s campers that have a defensive range of a tree? Because there are so many variables to BABIP this stat doesn’t tell us how RJ was able to hit righties better, it just tells us he did. It is like saying I got rich because I have more money in the bank. OK, but what did you do to put the money in the bank?

    • Norm Bothwell

       It doesn’t mean he hit righties better at all, it just means more balls went for hits.
      Why did more balls go for hits? I don’t know. But I do know that it is VERY LIKELY that his 2012 BABIP will be lower than his 2011 BABIP.
      Why did the roulette table have 75 blacks and only 25 reds in 100 rolls? I don’t know. But I do know that it is VERY LIKELY that the next 100 rolls will have lower than 75 black numbers and more than 25 red numbers.

      • Noah_I

        Exactly.  A .410 BABIP over the course of a full season, particularly against same handed pitchers, would be historically good if Johnson had 600 PAs in a season.  Statistics don’t answer why something happens in any area of math or science.  They merely provide data for correlation.  Sometimes there are outliers.  Sometimes those outliers can become permanent or semi-permanent in baseball (Jose Bautista becoming one of the best hitters in baseball and Cliff Lee becoming one of the best pitchers in baseball suddenly near age 30), because statistically we’re dealing with pretty small sample sizes until a player has a long career.  Usually they don’t. 

        Is it possible there’s some reason why Reed Johnson put up a .410 BABIP against RHPs in 2011, and that it’s something he could repeat in 2012?  Sure, it’s possible.  It’s just statistically unlikely.

      • Gymjok

        Yes it is likely that it will be closer to 50/50. But not because the  previous rolls were 75/25. The previous 100 rolls have NO effect on the next 100 rolls.
        Whereas if Reed did make a positive adjustment in his previous 100 AB-
        that DOES have an effect on his next 100 AB.
        So Doc’s questions are valid. Those type of questions help determine whether his numbers went up because of a positive change-
        or if no change was made, then the N brothers(Noah&Norm) would be correct because he is pretty much the same player he’s been in the past, and the odds are he will revert back closer to his statistical norms(pun intended).
        But again it is important to ask those type of questions to help determine which scenario applies.

      • Norm Bothwell

         I agree with everything you say…but Reed’s 2011 BABIP is SO HIGH that it is unsustainable…no matter what adjustments he made. His 2012 BABIP will be lower, even if he became the best hitter in baseball.

      • Noah_I

        I’ll just put it this way: statistically, when you look over the history of baseball, it is highly more likely that Reed Johnson will revert to near his statistical norms against right handed pitchers in 2012 than he will do anything close to repeating that 2011 performane.  It’s possible.  Just, statistically, highly unlikely.  Even if he did do something to change his approach last season against right handed pitchers, at this point there is no way to tell at this point if his 2011 numbers against RHPs were due to that change in approach or just randomness of a small sample size.

        I’d go with randomness.  One big reason: if Reed did change his appreach in such a meaningful way, shouldn’t his numbers against left handed pitchers have been good as well?  Yet those numbers were actually below his career norms against left handed pitchers. 

      • Gymjok

        Sorry I’m technology challenged so I don’t paste.
        But you’re first part doesn’t have to be an or.
        It could be a combo- of approach AND randomness AND 2 or 3 other things which would explain why it was SO much higher(which would support you saying earlier it’s  very likely coming down no matter what).
        On your 2nd part-not necessarily.
        Depends on the type of change.
        An improvement can be made that helps vs RHP and doesn’t have an effect vs LHP(I’m glad I was a switch-hitter and didn’t have to deal with this type of thing).

      • Noah_I

        Everything you’ve said is quite true.  But it’s a question of possibilities and likelihoods.  Based on a small sample size with a player of Reed Johnson’s age and talents, I’d put my money on random variation among a small sample size, if I had to bet.

      • Jedi

        Not necessarily Noah – there’s actually at least one very good explanation for both changes (besides luck).  When a RH hitter starts to go to the opposite field off of RHP he, often times, will see a bump in his BA.  His power might dip, but his average can improve quite a bit.  Especially a guy who had previously been prone to pull the ball a lot.  If he keeps that same approach against LHPs he’s going to get sawed off a lot more than he used to because those pitches bearing in on his hands are less likely to get yanked foul.

        I’m not saying that’s what happened to Johnson last year – I don’t really remember his at-bats well enough.  But you COULD look back and tape and see if that’s what happened, and even with a small sample size you could determine if that was the reason (it’s not unusual for older players to change their approach and start looking for the opposite field more as they lose bat speed).

        I’m just saying that there could be really good reasons why Johnson’s numbers moved like they did.  And while .410 might not be sustainable – significantly higher than his career average of BABIP against RHPs might very well be.  I’m unwilling to look simply at his BABIP and because of that chalk everything else up to luck.

      • Jedi

        “It doesn’t mean he hit righties better at all, it just means more balls went for hits. Why did more balls go for hits? I don’t know.”

        That’s right, you don’t know.  And Doc’s (valid) point is that unless you watch the game you have can’t possibly know how much of his BABIP bump is due to changes he made in his approach and how much is due to luck.  And yet most people who use BABIP do so to attribute other stat differences to luck.

        Comparing BABIP to roulette is where you get into trouble.  Roulette is predicated on chance (some have called it the ultimate game of chance).  There, of course, is a factor of chance in BABIP – but it’s not the ONLY factor (before you get your panties in a twist, remember you are the one who compared the two – and since roulette is by definition a game of chance you’ve made an inference that BABIP is a stat charting chance).  If you’re going to use analogies, use something that applies…roulette to BABIP is a terrible analogy.–
        It’s great to be able to say his BABIP will be lower – I could say the same of nearly every stat of every player who has a “career” year…it’s not terribly informative to say the guy is more likely than not to revert to his career averages – it’s fairly obvious.  Except that when a guy improves his approach at the plate and has a career year, we don’t necessarily expect him to revert to his previous averages – he might not repeat his “career” year but to whatever degree the changes are repeatable he probably can improve on his averages.  Yet your interpretation of BABIP would attribute it to luck – it’s not a luck stat.

        It incorporates luck, but it’s far more than that (if Carlos Pena started bunting into the shift that he sees, his BABIP would skyrocket, and you’d say that his BABIP will revert to a normal level eventually – but for as long as he is able to successfully bunt into the shift that high level of BABIP is repeatable…it’s not simply luck).  It could be that Johnson did a better job of driving pitches to the opposite field – and THAT is repeatable.  If he’s changed his approach at the plate in certain situations he can maintain some/all of his improvement.  This can also work against a guy – if Ryan Theriot’s BABIP drops you would say not to worry, it’ll return to his career average…but if it dropped because every manager figured out that his second baseman needed to play further to the first base side of the bag it would be significantly easier to get Theriot out and his BABIP would plummet until he changed his approach, the dip would be repeatable…not bad luck.

      • Norm Bothwell

         TL;DR
        Reed’s BABIP will be lower in 2012 than it was in 2011.

      • Jedi

        Right, keep gracing us with your half-baked roulette analogies – it’s far more interesting to be quickly and obviously wrong.

      • Norm Bothwell

         Wrong in saying Reed’s BABIP will be lower in 2012 than in 2011? Care to wager?

      • Jedi

        You need to read what I wrote before you make a further fool of yourself.

  • Doc Raker

    How did Reed Johnson accomplish a 50 point increase in batting average verse righties? He posted a higher BABIP…………………OK but why did he post a higher BABIP? Did he change his approach and square up more balls? Did he change his swing? Did he hit more balls to a certain field that would indicate a change in approach? Did he play against a bunch of Randy’s campers that have a defensive range of a tree? Because there are so many variables to BABIP this stat doesn’t tell us how RJ was able to hit righties better, it just tells us he did. It is like saying I got rich because I have more money in the bank. OK, but what did you do to put the money in the bank?

    • Norm Bothwell

       It doesn’t mean he hit righties better at all, it just means more balls went for hits.
      Why did more balls go for hits? I don’t know. But I do know that it is VERY LIKELY that his 2012 BABIP will be lower than his 2011 BABIP.
      Why did the roulette table have 75 blacks and only 25 reds in 100 rolls? I don’t know. But I do know that it is VERY LIKELY that the next 100 rolls will have lower than 75 black numbers and more than 25 red numbers.

      • Noah_I

        Exactly.  A .410 BABIP over the course of a full season, particularly against same handed pitchers, would be historically good if Johnson had 600 PAs in a season.  Statistics don’t answer why something happens in any area of math or science.  They merely provide data for correlation.  Sometimes there are outliers.  Sometimes those outliers can become permanent or semi-permanent in baseball (Jose Bautista becoming one of the best hitters in baseball and Cliff Lee becoming one of the best pitchers in baseball suddenly near age 30), because statistically we’re dealing with pretty small sample sizes until a player has a long career.  Usually they don’t. 

        Is it possible there’s some reason why Reed Johnson put up a .410 BABIP against RHPs in 2011, and that it’s something he could repeat in 2012?  Sure, it’s possible.  It’s just statistically unlikely.

      • Gymjok

        Yes it is likely that it will be closer to 50/50. But not because the  previous rolls were 75/25. The previous 100 rolls have NO effect on the next 100 rolls.
        Whereas if Reed did make a positive adjustment in his previous 100 AB-
        that DOES have an effect on his next 100 AB.
        So Doc’s questions are valid. Those type of questions help determine whether his numbers went up because of a positive change-
        or if no change was made, then the N brothers(Noah&Norm) would be correct because he is pretty much the same player he’s been in the past, and the odds are he will revert back closer to his statistical norms(pun intended).
        But again it is important to ask those type of questions to help determine which scenario applies.

      • Norm Bothwell

         I agree with everything you say…but Reed’s 2011 BABIP is SO HIGH that it is unsustainable…no matter what adjustments he made. His 2012 BABIP will be lower, even if he became the best hitter in baseball.

      • Noah_I

        I’ll just put it this way: statistically, when you look over the history of baseball, it is highly more likely that Reed Johnson will revert to near his statistical norms against right handed pitchers in 2012 than he will do anything close to repeating that 2011 performane.  It’s possible.  Just, statistically, highly unlikely.  Even if he did do something to change his approach last season against right handed pitchers, at this point there is no way to tell at this point if his 2011 numbers against RHPs were due to that change in approach or just randomness of a small sample size.

        I’d go with randomness.  One big reason: if Reed did change his appreach in such a meaningful way, shouldn’t his numbers against left handed pitchers have been good as well?  Yet those numbers were actually below his career norms against left handed pitchers. 

      • Gymjok

        Sorry I’m technology challenged so I don’t paste.
        But you’re first part doesn’t have to be an or.
        It could be a combo- of approach AND randomness AND 2 or 3 other things which would explain why it was SO much higher(which would support you saying earlier it’s  very likely coming down no matter what).
        On your 2nd part-not necessarily.
        Depends on the type of change.
        An improvement can be made that helps vs RHP and doesn’t have an effect vs LHP(I’m glad I was a switch-hitter and didn’t have to deal with this type of thing).

      • Noah_I

        Everything you’ve said is quite true.  But it’s a question of possibilities and likelihoods.  Based on a small sample size with a player of Reed Johnson’s age and talents, I’d put my money on random variation among a small sample size, if I had to bet.

      • Jedi

        Not necessarily Noah – there’s actually at least one very good explanation for both changes (besides luck).  When a RH hitter starts to go to the opposite field off of RHP he, often times, will see a bump in his BA.  His power might dip, but his average can improve quite a bit.  Especially a guy who had previously been prone to pull the ball a lot.  If he keeps that same approach against LHPs he’s going to get sawed off a lot more than he used to because those pitches bearing in on his hands are less likely to get yanked foul.

        I’m not saying that’s what happened to Johnson last year – I don’t really remember his at-bats well enough.  But you COULD look back and tape and see if that’s what happened, and even with a small sample size you could determine if that was the reason (it’s not unusual for older players to change their approach and start looking for the opposite field more as they lose bat speed).

        I’m just saying that there could be really good reasons why Johnson’s numbers moved like they did.  And while .410 might not be sustainable – significantly higher than his career average of BABIP against RHPs might very well be.  I’m unwilling to look simply at his BABIP and because of that chalk everything else up to luck.

      • Jedi

        “It doesn’t mean he hit righties better at all, it just means more balls went for hits. Why did more balls go for hits? I don’t know.”

        That’s right, you don’t know.  And Doc’s (valid) point is that unless you watch the game you have can’t possibly know how much of his BABIP bump is due to changes he made in his approach and how much is due to luck.  And yet most people who use BABIP do so to attribute other stat differences to luck.

        Comparing BABIP to roulette is where you get into trouble.  Roulette is predicated on chance (some have called it the ultimate game of chance).  There, of course, is a factor of chance in BABIP – but it’s not the ONLY factor (before you get your panties in a twist, remember you are the one who compared the two – and since roulette is by definition a game of chance you’ve made an inference that BABIP is a stat charting chance).  If you’re going to use analogies, use something that applies…roulette to BABIP is a terrible analogy.–
        It’s great to be able to say his BABIP will be lower – I could say the same of nearly every stat of every player who has a “career” year…it’s not terribly informative to say the guy is more likely than not to revert to his career averages – it’s fairly obvious.  Except that when a guy improves his approach at the plate and has a career year, we don’t necessarily expect him to revert to his previous averages – he might not repeat his “career” year but to whatever degree the changes are repeatable he probably can improve on his averages.  Yet your interpretation of BABIP would attribute it to luck – it’s not a luck stat.

        It incorporates luck, but it’s far more than that (if Carlos Pena started bunting into the shift that he sees, his BABIP would skyrocket, and you’d say that his BABIP will revert to a normal level eventually – but for as long as he is able to successfully bunt into the shift that high level of BABIP is repeatable…it’s not simply luck).  It could be that Johnson did a better job of driving pitches to the opposite field – and THAT is repeatable.  If he’s changed his approach at the plate in certain situations he can maintain some/all of his improvement.  This can also work against a guy – if Ryan Theriot’s BABIP drops you would say not to worry, it’ll return to his career average…but if it dropped because every manager figured out that his second baseman needed to play further to the first base side of the bag it would be significantly easier to get Theriot out and his BABIP would plummet until he changed his approach, the dip would be repeatable…not bad luck.

      • Norm Bothwell

         TL;DR
        Reed’s BABIP will be lower in 2012 than it was in 2011.

      • Jedi

        Right, keep gracing us with your half-baked roulette analogies – it’s far more interesting to be quickly and obviously wrong.

      • Norm Bothwell

         Wrong in saying Reed’s BABIP will be lower in 2012 than in 2011? Care to wager?

      • Jedi

        You need to read what I wrote before you make a further fool of yourself.

  • BLPCB

    Best Reed Johnson moment ever: Robbing Tubby Veggie of a grand slam after Hasbro got hurt.

  • AC0000000

    Best Reed Johnson moment ever: Robbing Tubby Veggie of a grand slam after Hasbro got hurt.

  • Chuck

    The league-average BABIP is usually around .300 to .310.  Different players will have different “normal” BABIPs due to a variety of reasons such as speed, type of hitter (flyball vs groundball), skill, etc…  The biggest reason why somebody may see a marked increase in BABIP is that they are sacrificing power to become more of a slap-hitter (bad idea) like Ichiro.  I did not notice Reed doing anything like that.  It could just be a combination of luck and him becoming a better hitter.  There are lots of guys who had career-years in thier early 30s then decline sharply.

  • Chuck

    The league-average BABIP is usually around .300 to .310.  Different players will have different “normal” BABIPs due to a variety of reasons such as speed, type of hitter (flyball vs groundball), skill, etc…  The biggest reason why somebody may see a marked increase in BABIP is that they are sacrificing power to become more of a slap-hitter (bad idea) like Ichiro.  I did not notice Reed doing anything like that.  It could just be a combination of luck and him becoming a better hitter.  There are lots of guys who had career-years in thier early 30s then decline sharply.

  • Doc Raker

    You guys want to argue about stats and what stats mean- fine- argue away. Part of my point is as a baseball player and a baseball observer I realize how much is ignored in your statistical analysis. There is no knowledge or contemplation of how someone plays the greatest game of baseball and how they might have changed the way they play the greatest game to change their stats. Just quoting a stat to point to another stat isn’t a full analysis of a baseball player. All you writers do a great job here at the VFTB but a conversation about how a player plays and makes adjustments is within the realm of good baseball conversation. Discounting a players adjustments short changes the hard work a player puts into the game. “His BABIP can never be maintained”- maybe so but what did RJ do to become a better hitter against righties? That is the question. A little thought into that would be a good conversation. Suggesting it is all luck dismisses the players efforts and in that sense is offensive to the player and anyone who pays attention to such adjustments players make.

    • [gives Raker’s comment a slow-clap]

    • Jedi

      That IS an argument about what stats mean though – whether you attribute BABIP variances to luck or something else is a direct result of how you interpret and understand that stat.  I can appreciate your desire to dig deeper, but when we’ve got people explaining BABIP as in some way analogous to roulette, there’s a fundamental problem that prevents any type of correct interpretation.  A .410 vs. a .310 BABIP does not mean that Johnson just figuratively landed on red 10% more in 2011 by chance.  (And I know that’s not what YOU are saying Doc – but it’s difficult to have a reasoned explanation when some are passing off a false premise)…it’s a whole lot easier to understand “Johnson was 10% luckier” than it is “he’s changed his approach, he faced fewer RHPs and when he did face a righty it was someone who he’d had previous success against, and sure he probably had a bit of luck too.”  Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter which is correct; often whichever is easier to understand and rationalize is deemed to be the answer.

      • Doc Raker

        I like your idea of the possibilty of making the adjustment to go oppo. I am trying to find his hit charts.

      • Gymjok

        I didn’t see a lot of at bats but I have vague memories of him finally laying off that outside breaking ball- waiting for a good pitch- and driving it to left. 

      • Doc Raker

        I checked RJ’s hit chart, I think you are right- RJ is a pull hitter for sure. Laying off the outside junk and looking in got his numbers up in 2011. Here is the question for 2012 then. Will pitchers make an adjustment to him. At least we know what to watch for in 2012 when RJ is up to bat. That makes baseball a lot more interesting to me.  
        Thanks!

      • Gymjok

        You’re welcome!
        They could go hard inside(easy straight line set up for you) to get ahead.
        He’s so on top of the plate,it would be difficult to keep it fair.
        How they would try to wipe him out-that I don’t know.
        If his pitch recognition improvement is permanent then he’s a better hitter now than before.

  • Doc Raker

    You guys want to argue about stats and what stats mean- fine- argue away. Part of my point is as a baseball player and a baseball observer I realize how much is ignored in your statistical analysis. There is no knowledge or contemplation of how someone plays the greatest game of baseball and how they might have changed the way they play the greatest game to change their stats. Just quoting a stat to point to another stat isn’t a full analysis of a baseball player. All you writers do a great job here at the VFTB but a conversation about how a player plays and makes adjustments is within the realm of good baseball conversation. Discounting a players adjustments short changes the hard work a player puts into the game. “His BABIP can never be maintained”- maybe so but what did RJ do to become a better hitter against righties? That is the question. A little thought into that would be a good conversation. Suggesting it is all luck dismisses the players efforts and in that sense is offensive to the player and anyone who pays attention to such adjustments players make.

    • [gives Raker’s comment a slow-clap]

    • Jedi

      That IS an argument about what stats mean though – whether you attribute BABIP variances to luck or something else is a direct result of how you interpret and understand that stat.  I can appreciate your desire to dig deeper, but when we’ve got people explaining BABIP as in some way analogous to roulette, there’s a fundamental problem that prevents any type of correct interpretation.  A .410 vs. a .310 BABIP does not mean that Johnson just figuratively landed on red 10% more in 2011 by chance.  (And I know that’s not what YOU are saying Doc – but it’s difficult to have a reasoned explanation when some are passing off a false premise)…it’s a whole lot easier to understand “Johnson was 10% luckier” than it is “he’s changed his approach, he faced fewer RHPs and when he did face a righty it was someone who he’d had previous success against, and sure he probably had a bit of luck too.”  Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter which is correct; often whichever is easier to understand and rationalize is deemed to be the answer.

      • Doc Raker

        I like your idea of the possibilty of making the adjustment to go oppo. I am trying to find his hit charts.

      • Gymjok

        I didn’t see a lot of at bats but I have vague memories of him finally laying off that outside breaking ball- waiting for a good pitch- and driving it to left. 

      • Doc Raker

        I checked RJ’s hit chart, I think you are right- RJ is a pull hitter for sure. Laying off the outside junk and looking in got his numbers up in 2011. Here is the question for 2012 then. Will pitchers make an adjustment to him. At least we know what to watch for in 2012 when RJ is up to bat. That makes baseball a lot more interesting to me.  
        Thanks!

      • Gymjok

        You’re welcome!
        They could go hard inside(easy straight line set up for you) to get ahead.
        He’s so on top of the plate,it would be difficult to keep it fair.
        How they would try to wipe him out-that I don’t know.
        If his pitch recognition improvement is permanent then he’s a better hitter now than before.

  • Gymjok

    It’s funny you should mention that. I was thinking to myself earlier that I thought the
    N boys and I were having a good baseball conversation.

    • Gymjok

      I thought I clicked the reply for Doc’s post. I guess I didn’t.

  • Gymjok

    It’s funny you should mention that. I was thinking to myself earlier that I thought the
    N boys and I were having a good baseball conversation.

    • Gymjok

      I thought I clicked the reply for Doc’s post. I guess I didn’t.

  • Jedi

    Go look at Bonds’ 4 MVP seasons too – when he was chasing McGwire he was very unlucky to swing at so many extra balls that stayed in the park.  It was very lucky that for the next 3 seasons he stopped swinging for the fences so often and in doing so bettered his BABIP numbers.  That’s all luck though, it was unlucky that he didn’t have a higher BABIP when he hit 73 bombs (had nothing to do with how his approach changed in the following three years when his numbers were repeatable).

    • Norm Bothwell

      Who says BABIP is all luck?

    • Norm Bothwell

       And let’s look at Bonds’ 4 MVP seasons. Bonds career BABIP is .285.
      2001 BABIP: .266 (What should we expect in 2002? Go higher)
      2002 BABIP: .330 (What should we expect in 2004? Go lower)
      2003 BABIP: .304 (What should we expect in 2005? Go lower)
      2004 BABIP: .310 (wow, it’s not fool proof)

      Weird that it bounces back and forth so much. No one here is saying it’s luck. I don’t care what the reason is. The fact is Bonds BABIP bounced around from as low as .225 to as high as .330. The reason is irrelevant. You can expect an increase in Bonds avg/obp/slg when he has a BABIP that is .225. You can expect a decrease when its .330.

      • Doc Raker

        So what. I don’t watch games wondering about BABIP, I watch all the other stuff that you don’t seem to pay any attention to. So be it, it doesn’t make you a bad person, we just derive a different joy from the greatest game which is just another reason baseball is the greatest game.

      • Norm Bothwell

         Either do I. But when I’m writing these player previews (I didn’t write this one by the way), or I’m thinking about what to expect a player to do in the future, BABIP is a very informative piece of information on what to expect next year.

      • Informative information is my favorite type of information.  

      • Noah_I

        If I’m writing a player preview on any player like Reed Johnson (limited number of PAs, bench player), and I see a statistical variation, I’m just not going to spend a couple hundred words wondering why he did it.  Sure, there are tons of possibilities for why the BABIP shot up.  Is it possible that he started driving the ball to the opposite field with more authority?  Sure.  Is it just as or more likely that a few extra bloopers fell?  Yes.  But, from a statistical standpoint, are any of these possibilities greater than random statistical variation, considering the small sample size?  No.

        Now, if I was writing about Matt Garza, that would be a different story, because I have a 198 inning sample.  It’s not enough to come up with any concrete answers, but it’s at least enough to make more than wild guesses.  Why did his FIP and xFIP go down so much?  Why did his K rate and GB% go up?  Like anyone else, it could have been random variation.  Or it could have been switching from the AL East to the NL Central.  Or it could have been he changed his approach to pitching, relying on the fastball less and his breaking and off speed pitches more.  On a smaller sample size, I’d only be able to comfortably be able to list the first two.  But we have a decent sample size on Garza.

        Same thing if Castro improves defensively.  There’ll be questions as to why, that, over a full season, might provide some data.  Has he stopped the double clutch?  Is he set up better at the beginning of the play?  Has he stopped making throws he shouldn’t be making?  Over a full season there might be some indicia for why that happened.  But let’s say Castro only plays April and tears his ACL (dear lord who I don’t talk to very often, please realize this is just a hypothetical and don’t make this happen).  Let’s say he only makes 2 errors in April, but then we won’t see him again until 2013.  Is that really enough of a sample to say that it appears he’s made some real changes to improve his defense?  I would not, from a statistical perspective, feel comfortable saying that.

        Being able to find reasons for why players improve or get worse is great.  I just think trying to find those reasons prior to a significant sample size existing will largely be an exercise in futility.  Until that sample size exists, I will always explain outliers as random statistical variation.  Sometimes I’ll be wrong.  Usually I’ll be right, as far as small sample sizes are concerned.  But that’s part of the fun of baseball.  Sometimes everyone is wrong.  Because if there was someone who got it right every time, baseball would become a very, very boring sport.

      • Jedi

        “Is that really enough of a sample to say that it appears he’s made some real changes to improve his defense?”–
        If you watch those games – yes.  This is what makes advanced scouting so useful.  You CAN have conclusive answer after even a small sample size if you know what to look for.  Was it easy for even the casual observer to see that Derrek Lee became a better hitter when he opened up his stance?  Did we need a season’s worth of data to know that?  I guarantee the advanced scouts didn’t.  And I’m not saying we needed that kind of detail in 500 words Noah – but that analysis IS possible.  For a lot of us who tend to watch games instead peruse the box score it can be obvious before the stats can “prove” it.

      • Noah_I

        Or was Derrek Lee the beneficiary of an incredible hot streak to start the 2005 season?  In the first half of the 2005 season, Lee posted a .378/.452/.733 while posting a .397 BABIP and hitting home runs once every 13.6 PAs.  In the second half of the season he posted a .287/.380/.581, still great numbers, but not anything near his first half.  His BABIP was .285 in the second half.  He hit a home run once every 17 PAs.  These second half numbers are very close to his 2003 second half numbers, where he put up a .284/.393/.537, and the slugging difference could be easily explained as the difference between playing his home games in Wrigley instead of Miami. 

        So did Lee really make a big adjustment?  Or was he a good player who had a short peak as a great player that was aided by an utterly incredibly hot streak?  Was he about to become an all time great player for several years at age 29 and 30 after being a good but not great player throughout nearly all his 20s?  Was it but for the wrist injury that he didn’t become that?  Or was getting into his 30s going to cause that anyways?

        Quite honestly, I don’t care about the answers to those questions.  I do care that the Cubs overpaid Lee after an ok but not great 2007 on the idea that his wrist just needed more time to heal, when any sort of advanced statistical analysis would show he was a very good all around player who had a hot first half of a season. 

        And I think advanced scouts have a lot of value to their teams.  But these are guys who have been in the games their whole lives.  They have been trained to see things that we don’t even catch except in the most extreme scenarios.  The reason why I trust the stats over my eyes is because I’m in a profession that requires years of training.  Scouting is similar. 

        Of course guys’ BABIPs can change because of a change in approach.  But the history of baseball says it’s rare.  And the only way you can show it, as you did with Bonds, is to show that the statistical pattern changed.  That’s an after the fact determination.  I’m not here to make wild guesses.  I’m only here to make predictions based upon the  evidence I have in front of me.  Based on the history of baseball, the most likely scenario by far to explain the change in Reed Johnson’s BABIP over one month’s worth of plate appearances against right handed pitchers at his stage in his career with his talent level is random variation.  If he does anything to make it look like more than a fluke, I’ll be happy to write about it then.  If you’d like a post about the potential reasons why Reed Johnson’s BABIP against right handed pitchers rose so much last season, I’m sure Joe would be more than happy to let you write it.  I just have no interest in personally writing that specific topic.

      • Jedi

        Are you disputing that Lee became a better hitter when he changed his stance?  Because he did – he would tell you that, everyone who watched him would tell you that.  Not sure how closely you followed the early career of Derrek Lee – he DID make a big adjustment.  My point is, if you don’t incorporate such an important change into the analysis of his stats, the analysis you’re doing become utterly useless.  When you stop caring “why” something changed, your projection for the future is irrelevant.

      • Noah_I

        So if the change in Derrek Lee’s stance made so much of a difference, why did his numbers drop off so much in the second half of 2005?  Why are his second half of 2005 numbers so close to his second half of 2003 numbers with the only significant difference being a variation in slugging that could largely be explained away by home ball park? 

        I care about the explanations when they matter.  Let’s say Derrek Lee’s wrist hadn’t gotten broken and he’d gone on and had 2 or 3 more years with numbers that were similar to the totality of his 2005 season.  Then I would have said that, yes, the change in stance made a difference.  For example, a change in Jose Bautista’s approach at the plate clearly has made a difference, and it’s a really simple approach.  With less than two strikes he only swings at pitches he can pull.  He’s a great pull hitter with a great batting eye who is mediocre to other fields.  But we have two full seasons of data with this change.

        It’s quite possible that the stance change did play a significant role in his outstanding first half of 2005.  It’s also quite possible it didn’t.  Just because Derrek Lee and Ron Santo, as much as I respect both of them, said it did, that doesn’t automatically make it so.  He never repeated the feat, and never even had two great years in a row, so he can’t really prove it.  And I know everyone says it was the wrist injury.  And that would have been a more viable excuse had he, say, put up an OPS over .900 again in 2007 or even 2008.  But it didn’t happen again until 2009, and once again he couldn’t repeat it.  

        If you’re always looking for “why” to explain a statistical phenomenon, your “why” is going to be wrong a lot.  I do not make wild guesses based on personal testimonial.

        Here’s the deal: my projection related to this post is that Reed Johnson is going to go back to being ineffective against right handed pitchers.  I base that on a ten year career’s worth of data.  Do you disagree with that projection?  If you do, we’ll see what the season tells us. 

      • Jedi

        I disagree with the premise that his higher BABIP simply tells us he was lucky in 2011.  Just like I’ll disagree when his BABIP dips again and the chorus of “see, he was just lucky” starts up again.  I’m sure luck was a part of it – I’m also sure it wasn’t the biggest factor.  Besides, I’m not convinced he’s even going to make this team – Mather is making a serious bid for his spot.  Plus spinning the roulette wheel tells me that Mather is due for one of those “lucky” seasons which should instantly put him in a more favorable light.

      • Noah_I

        No, Joe Mather just isn’t very good.  And Mather’s taking Campana’s spot, not Johnson’s.  And I’m not going to come back and start a chorus of “see, Reed Johnson was just lucky, I’m right, you’re wrong, neener neener.”  Why?  Because I won’t need to say it.  I don’t argue with here to try to change your mind, and I have no desire to rub anything in on anyone.  I don’t care that you disagree with me.  I could have the ghost of Babe Ruth himself stand next to me and tell you advanced statistics are really on to something big, and you still wouldn’t care.  I argue this stuff with you because, when you make the devil’s advocate argument, it allows me to flesh out saber arguments more in a way that might make other people who might be interested in these areas understand them better. 

      • Jedi

        Right, dissent means I reject all advanced metrics – not just sabermyths.

      • Noah_I

        Or was Derrek Lee the beneficiary of an incredible hot streak to start the 2005 season?  In the first half of the 2005 season, Lee posted a .378/.452/.733 while posting a .397 BABIP and hitting home runs once every 13.6 PAs.  In the second half of the season he posted a .287/.380/.581, still great numbers, but not anything near his first half.  His BABIP was .285 in the second half.  He hit a home run once every 17 PAs.  These second half numbers are very close to his 2003 second half numbers, where he put up a .284/.393/.537, and the slugging difference could be easily explained as the difference between playing his home games in Wrigley instead of Miami. 

        So did Lee really make a big adjustment?  Or was he a good player who had a short peak as a great player that was aided by an utterly incredibly hot streak?  Was he about to become an all time great player for several years at age 29 and 30 after being a good but not great player throughout nearly all his 20s?  Was it but for the wrist injury that he didn’t become that?  Or was getting into his 30s going to cause that anyways?

        Quite honestly, I don’t care about the answers to those questions.  I do care that the Cubs overpaid Lee after an ok but not great 2007 on the idea that his wrist just needed more time to heal, when any sort of advanced statistical analysis would show he was a very good all around player who had a hot first half of a season. 

        And I think advanced scouts have a lot of value to their teams.  But these are guys who have been in the games their whole lives.  They have been trained to see things that we don’t even catch except in the most extreme scenarios.  The reason why I trust the stats over my eyes is because I’m in a profession that requires years of training.  Scouting is similar. 

        Of course guys’ BABIPs can change because of a change in approach.  But the history of baseball says it’s rare.  And the only way you can show it, as you did with Bonds, is to show that the statistical pattern changed.  That’s an after the fact determination.  I’m not here to make wild guesses.  I’m only here to make predictions based upon the  evidence I have in front of me.  Based on the history of baseball, the most likely scenario by far to explain the change in Reed Johnson’s BABIP over one month’s worth of plate appearances against right handed pitchers at his stage in his career with his talent level is random variation.  If he does anything to make it look like more than a fluke, I’ll be happy to write about it then.  If you’d like a post about the potential reasons why Reed Johnson’s BABIP against right handed pitchers rose so much last season, I’m sure Joe would be more than happy to let you write it.  I just have no interest in personally writing that specific topic.

      • Jedi

        Are you disputing that Lee became a better hitter when he changed his stance?  Because he did – he would tell you that, everyone who watched him would tell you that.  Not sure how closely you followed the early career of Derrek Lee – he DID make a big adjustment.  My point is, if you don’t incorporate such an important change into the analysis of his stats, the analysis you’re doing become utterly useless.  When you stop caring “why” something changed, your projection for the future is irrelevant.

      • Noah_I

        So if the change in Derrek Lee’s stance made so much of a difference, why did his numbers drop off so much in the second half of 2005?  Why are his second half of 2005 numbers so close to his second half of 2003 numbers with the only significant difference being a variation in slugging that could largely be explained away by home ball park? 

        I care about the explanations when they matter.  Let’s say Derrek Lee’s wrist hadn’t gotten broken and he’d gone on and had 2 or 3 more years with numbers that were similar to the totality of his 2005 season.  Then I would have said that, yes, the change in stance made a difference.  For example, a change in Jose Bautista’s approach at the plate clearly has made a difference, and it’s a really simple approach.  With less than two strikes he only swings at pitches he can pull.  He’s a great pull hitter with a great batting eye who is mediocre to other fields.  But we have two full seasons of data with this change.

        It’s quite possible that the stance change did play a significant role in his outstanding first half of 2005.  It’s also quite possible it didn’t.  Just because Derrek Lee and Ron Santo, as much as I respect both of them, said it did, that doesn’t automatically make it so.  He never repeated the feat, and never even had two great years in a row, so he can’t really prove it.  And I know everyone says it was the wrist injury.  And that would have been a more viable excuse had he, say, put up an OPS over .900 again in 2007 or even 2008.  But it didn’t happen again until 2009, and once again he couldn’t repeat it.  

        If you’re always looking for “why” to explain a statistical phenomenon, your “why” is going to be wrong a lot.  I do not make wild guesses based on personal testimonial.

        Here’s the deal: my projection related to this post is that Reed Johnson is going to go back to being ineffective against right handed pitchers.  I base that on a ten year career’s worth of data.  Do you disagree with that projection?  If you do, we’ll see what the season tells us. 

      • Jedi

        I disagree with the premise that his higher BABIP simply tells us he was lucky in 2011.  Just like I’ll disagree when his BABIP dips again and the chorus of “see, he was just lucky” starts up again.  I’m sure luck was a part of it – I’m also sure it wasn’t the biggest factor.  Besides, I’m not convinced he’s even going to make this team – Mather is making a serious bid for his spot.  Plus spinning the roulette wheel tells me that Mather is due for one of those “lucky” seasons which should instantly put him in a more favorable light.

      • Noah_I

        No, Joe Mather just isn’t very good.  And Mather’s taking Campana’s spot, not Johnson’s.  And I’m not going to come back and start a chorus of “see, Reed Johnson was just lucky, I’m right, you’re wrong, neener neener.”  Why?  Because I won’t need to say it.  I don’t argue with here to try to change your mind, and I have no desire to rub anything in on anyone.  I don’t care that you disagree with me.  I could have the ghost of Babe Ruth himself stand next to me and tell you advanced statistics are really on to something big, and you still wouldn’t care.  I argue this stuff with you because, when you make the devil’s advocate argument, it allows me to flesh out saber arguments more in a way that might make other people who might be interested in these areas understand them better. 

      • Doc Raker

        Your information is infromative and appreciated. I was just expanding on the conversation past stats and into player adjustments. Prediciting someone’s production is fine but I would prefer to chat about what a player needs to do to improve his production. There in lies the real genius.

      • I didn’t predict you preferring we project more productive production prediction projections.   

      • Doc Raker

        Exactly, that’s what I meant to say. Hard fast clap.

      • Point, wink, double thumbs-up.  

      • Jedi

        “The reason is irrelevant.”–
        You couldn’t be more wrong.  The reasons are completely relevant to the extent that it can be explained.  You would expect him to hit .285 or pretty close every year.  I’ll tell you that Bonds, in his best years, was able to maintain higher than his normal BABIP by changing his approach at the plate.  You’ll tell me that it’s luck.  Knowing that the guy can sustain 20 points above his career BABIP is pretty important info.  It doesn’t bounce back and forth – he had a lower BABIP when he was swinging at more pitches out of the zone.  He sustained a .300+ BABIP when he became a much more selective hitter at the plate.  That’s what is known as a change in approach…something that’s repeatable.  It’s not a big roulette wheel that just happened to land on black more often.  For a saberbeliever you don’t understand some of the advanced metrics very well.

        You know what happened to Bonds’ BABIP in his final 2+ seasons following those 4 MVP awards.  I’ll give you a hint – he was chasing this guy named Aaron, trying to hit the ball out of the park in every at-bat.  I know, I know…it was luck.

      • Norm Bothwell

        You just don’t get it.

        I don’t care what Bonds did to his approach. When his BABIP was .330,
        you should expect it to go down. When his BABIP was .225, you should
        expect it to go up.

        THAT’S ALL. Is that so hard to understand?

        Matt Kemp had a .380 BABIP in 2011. Guess what? I bet that goes down in 2012. I don’t care if he had a different approach in 2011. It will go down.

        What do you think? Do you think Kemp’s BABIP is going to go down next year?

      • Jedi

        You can’t answer a single question of mine but you’ll keep going back to the same tired, old garbage.  It’s not roulette, it’s not luck, there are good explanations – continue to be ignorant if you like.  But stop giving false explanations to support your infantile understandings that you hold so dear.

      • Noah_I

        You do know the equation for BABIP is (H-HR)/(AB-K-HR), right?  So home runs come out of the equation.  And he walked in like 30% of his plate appearances over those years.  That was also the greatest (potentially chemically aided) four year span of a player pretty much ever by a player who was probably the best overall player since Willie Mays even before that four year span. 

        Logically it just doesn’t even make sense to me.  If he was swinging for the fences so much to catch Aaron, with home runs not part of the BABIP equation, wouldn’t you expect his BABIP to go down?  Guys who swing for the fences swing and miss more, yet in those four seasons Bonds never struck out more than 14% in a season, and had a low of 6.6%.  So a massive proportion of his plate appearances that didn’t end in a walk or HR ended with the ball put in play.  And it’s not like a huge number of those were just miss home runs.  His numbers of doubles those years were pretty much in line with his career averages. 

        So I’ll go with those four years were the greatest four consecutive offensive years any of us have ever seen.  It may have been natural, it may have been chemical, but I don’t think it’s explainable by just saying he changed his approach to try to hit more home runs when home runs don’t play a role in BABIP.

      • Jedi

        I think you need to read what I wrote again “in his final 2+ seasons following those 4 MVP awards” – when Aaron’s record became reachable for Bonds he DID once again change his approach at the plate.  The Giants basically admitted this – they were keeping him until he broke the record (so break it fast Barry).  And lo and behold, after his final MVP season when he had about 50 HRs to go he started swinging for the fences like a madman again (just like he did in 2001). His BABIP dropped precipitously.  Hard to understand?

      • Noah_I

        But then still why would his BABIP go down specifically because of that?  You’d expect that mostly to add to Ks, and Ks aren’t involved in BABIP either.  He missed almost all but 14 games of 2005 with injury, so you can’t read anything from that year.  When he came back in 2006, at age 41, looking at how he hit the ball, his only big number that changed was his HR/FB rate.  After being between 26 and 30% over those 2002-2004 seasons, it dropped to 16.6%.  If he was always swinging for the fences and trying to get home runs, shouldn’t that number have gone up or stayed steady, not dropped precipitously while his GB, LB and FB rates all stayed pretty even with the great years?  In 2007 the GB rate went way up.  Maybe that could have been pressing, but he was 42.  Couldn’t it just have easily just been that he was 41 and 42 in those seasons?  That between the injuries and age whatever had kept him where he was from 2001-2004 couldn’t maintain that quite so well anymore? 

      • Jedi

        2001: Barry swung like a crazy fool for the fences
        2002: A much more balanced approach
        2003: A much more balanced approach
        2004: A much more balanced approach
        2005 and on: Barry swung like a crazy fool for the fences

        His other stats bear this out too – he had more Ks in 2001 than he’d had in almost a decade.  The three following years it was roughly half as much.  His walk rate increased (he got more picky at the plate).  His GB/FB ratio increased.  He even hit fewer pop-ups on the infield (though that wasn’t as significant a drop).  All things indicative of a guy who wasn’t swinging for the fences with the same resolve. By the time 2005 starts (really 2006 because of how little he played in ’05) all of those numbers trend back toward “Barry’s swinging for the fences again.”

      • Noah_I

        His IFFB rate was lower in 2006 (10.2%) than it was in 2003 (13.8%) or 2004 (14.2%).  And you do realize that a ton of those walks from 2002-2004 were of the intentional variety, right?  In 2004 more than half of his 232 walks were intentional.  And that’s the catcher stands up and it’s officially intentional variety.  That doesn’t even come close to including the unintentional intentional walks.  But please, I’d love to hear more of your narrative. 

      • Jedi

        So pitcher’s changed their approach to him…that’s your argument?  Well I guess it’s better than the roulette wheel.

      • Noah_I

        Considering walks don’t effect BABIP, the number of times he was walked plays no role on BABIP.  I’m just saying that from 2002-2004 you can’t flat out say Bonds was walking so much because his eye was so amazing.  It was, but a part of all the walks is no one threw to him.

        And walks don’t effect BABIP.  I don’t see evidence in the BABIP that he was suddenly making different kinds of contact in 2006 than he was in 2004.  You cited IFFB rate, but that was lower in ’06 than it was in ’02-’04.  The only difference I can find is that his HR/FB rate went way down, turning numbers that wouldn’t be a part of the BABIP equation into outs that are figured by BABIP.  But I don’t see evidence these were pop ups on the infield, as opposed to maybe he just wasn’t as good a hitter anymore coming off a major injury at age 41.

        The players come up with explanations for things all the time, just as people come up with reasons or excuses for why things happened.  There has to be a reason, some active I did that made this something good happen.  Or there has to be something I did wrong or that was out of my control that made this bad thing happen.  When a lot of times it’s just random chance.  This applies in baseball as well.

        It isn’t all random chance, of course.  Baseball is of course a mixture of talent, hard work and random chance.  But random chance plays a big, big role.  And, typically, you can only note that something isn’t random chance too long after the fact for it to matter.  If everyone could see the little changes that need to be made to make players better, Jose Bautistas would be common.  But they aren’t.

      • Norm Bothwell

        You’re still stuck on this belief that I care what the explanations are. In the end, the conclusion you get will be the same; Kemp’s BABIP will decrease.

  • Jedi

    Go look at Bonds’ 4 MVP seasons too – when he was chasing McGwire he was very unlucky to swing at so many extra balls that stayed in the park.  It was very lucky that for the next 3 seasons he stopped swinging for the fences so often and in doing so bettered his BABIP numbers.  That’s all luck though, it was unlucky that he didn’t have a higher BABIP when he hit 73 bombs (had nothing to do with how his approach changed in the following three years when his numbers were repeatable).

    • Norm Bothwell

      Who says BABIP is all luck?

    • Norm Bothwell

       And let’s look at Bonds’ 4 MVP seasons. Bonds career BABIP is .285.
      2001 BABIP: .266 (What should we expect in 2002? Go higher)
      2002 BABIP: .330 (What should we expect in 2004? Go lower)
      2003 BABIP: .304 (What should we expect in 2005? Go lower)
      2004 BABIP: .310 (wow, it’s not fool proof)

      Weird that it bounces back and forth so much. No one here is saying it’s luck. I don’t care what the reason is. The fact is Bonds BABIP bounced around from as low as .225 to as high as .330. The reason is irrelevant. You can expect an increase in Bonds avg/obp/slg when he has a BABIP that is .225. You can expect a decrease when its .330.

      • Doc Raker

        So what. I don’t watch games wondering about BABIP, I watch all the other stuff that you don’t seem to pay any attention to. So be it, it doesn’t make you a bad person, we just derive a different joy from the greatest game which is just another reason baseball is the greatest game.

      • Norm Bothwell

         Either do I. But when I’m writing these player previews (I didn’t write this one by the way), or I’m thinking about what to expect a player to do in the future, BABIP is a very informative piece of information on what to expect next year.

      • Informative information is my favorite type of information.  

      • Noah_I

        If I’m writing a player preview on any player like Reed Johnson (limited number of PAs, bench player), and I see a statistical variation, I’m just not going to spend a couple hundred words wondering why he did it.  Sure, there are tons of possibilities for why the BABIP shot up.  Is it possible that he started driving the ball to the opposite field with more authority?  Sure.  Is it just as or more likely that a few extra bloopers fell?  Yes.  But, from a statistical standpoint, are any of these possibilities greater than random statistical variation, considering the small sample size?  No.

        Now, if I was writing about Matt Garza, that would be a different story, because I have a 198 inning sample.  It’s not enough to come up with any concrete answers, but it’s at least enough to make more than wild guesses.  Why did his FIP and xFIP go down so much?  Why did his K rate and GB% go up?  Like anyone else, it could have been random variation.  Or it could have been switching from the AL East to the NL Central.  Or it could have been he changed his approach to pitching, relying on the fastball less and his breaking and off speed pitches more.  On a smaller sample size, I’d only be able to comfortably be able to list the first two.  But we have a decent sample size on Garza.

        Same thing if Castro improves defensively.  There’ll be questions as to why, that, over a full season, might provide some data.  Has he stopped the double clutch?  Is he set up better at the beginning of the play?  Has he stopped making throws he shouldn’t be making?  Over a full season there might be some indicia for why that happened.  But let’s say Castro only plays April and tears his ACL (dear lord who I don’t talk to very often, please realize this is just a hypothetical and don’t make this happen).  Let’s say he only makes 2 errors in April, but then we won’t see him again until 2013.  Is that really enough of a sample to say that it appears he’s made some real changes to improve his defense?  I would not, from a statistical perspective, feel comfortable saying that.

        Being able to find reasons for why players improve or get worse is great.  I just think trying to find those reasons prior to a significant sample size existing will largely be an exercise in futility.  Until that sample size exists, I will always explain outliers as random statistical variation.  Sometimes I’ll be wrong.  Usually I’ll be right, as far as small sample sizes are concerned.  But that’s part of the fun of baseball.  Sometimes everyone is wrong.  Because if there was someone who got it right every time, baseball would become a very, very boring sport.

      • Jedi

        “The reason is irrelevant.”–
        You couldn’t be more wrong.  The reasons are completely relevant to the extent that it can be explained.  You would expect him to hit .285 or pretty close every year.  I’ll tell you that Bonds, in his best years, was able to maintain higher than his normal BABIP by changing his approach at the plate.  You’ll tell me that it’s luck.  Knowing that the guy can sustain 20 points above his career BABIP is pretty important info.  It doesn’t bounce back and forth – he had a lower BABIP when he was swinging at more pitches out of the zone.  He sustained a .300+ BABIP when he became a much more selective hitter at the plate.  That’s what is known as a change in approach…something that’s repeatable.  It’s not a big roulette wheel that just happened to land on black more often.  For a saberbeliever you don’t understand some of the advanced metrics very well.

        You know what happened to Bonds’ BABIP in his final 2+ seasons following those 4 MVP awards.  I’ll give you a hint – he was chasing this guy named Aaron, trying to hit the ball out of the park in every at-bat.  I know, I know…it was luck.

      • Norm Bothwell

        You just don’t get it.

        I don’t care what Bonds did to his approach. When his BABIP was .330,
        you should expect it to go down. When his BABIP was .225, you should
        expect it to go up.

        THAT’S ALL. Is that so hard to understand?

        Matt Kemp had a .380 BABIP in 2011. Guess what? I bet that goes down in 2012. I don’t care if he had a different approach in 2011. It will go down.

        What do you think? Do you think Kemp’s BABIP is going to go down next year?

      • Jedi

        You can’t answer a single question of mine but you’ll keep going back to the same tired, old garbage.  It’s not roulette, it’s not luck, there are good explanations – continue to be ignorant if you like.  But stop giving false explanations to support your infantile understandings that you hold so dear.

      • Noah_I

        You do know the equation for BABIP is (H-HR)/(AB-K-HR), right?  So home runs come out of the equation.  And he walked in like 30% of his plate appearances over those years.  That was also the greatest (potentially chemically aided) four year span of a player pretty much ever by a player who was probably the best overall player since Willie Mays even before that four year span. 

        Logically it just doesn’t even make sense to me.  If he was swinging for the fences so much to catch Aaron, with home runs not part of the BABIP equation, wouldn’t you expect his BABIP to go down?  Guys who swing for the fences swing and miss more, yet in those four seasons Bonds never struck out more than 14% in a season, and had a low of 6.6%.  So a massive proportion of his plate appearances that didn’t end in a walk or HR ended with the ball put in play.  And it’s not like a huge number of those were just miss home runs.  His numbers of doubles those years were pretty much in line with his career averages. 

        So I’ll go with those four years were the greatest four consecutive offensive years any of us have ever seen.  It may have been natural, it may have been chemical, but I don’t think it’s explainable by just saying he changed his approach to try to hit more home runs when home runs don’t play a role in BABIP.

      • Jedi

        2001: Barry swung like a crazy fool for the fences
        2002: A much more balanced approach
        2003: A much more balanced approach
        2004: A much more balanced approach
        2005 and on: Barry swung like a crazy fool for the fences

        His other stats bear this out too – he had more Ks in 2001 than he’d had in almost a decade.  The three following years it was roughly half as much.  His walk rate increased (he got more picky at the plate).  His GB/FB ratio increased.  He even hit fewer pop-ups on the infield (though that wasn’t as significant a drop).  All things indicative of a guy who wasn’t swinging for the fences with the same resolve. By the time 2005 starts (really 2006 because of how little he played in ’05) all of those numbers trend back toward “Barry’s swinging for the fences again.”

      • Noah_I

        His IFFB rate was lower in 2006 (10.2%) than it was in 2003 (13.8%) or 2004 (14.2%).  And you do realize that a ton of those walks from 2002-2004 were of the intentional variety, right?  In 2004 more than half of his 232 walks were intentional.  And that’s the catcher stands up and it’s officially intentional variety.  That doesn’t even come close to including the unintentional intentional walks.  But please, I’d love to hear more of your narrative. 

      • Jedi

        So pitcher’s changed their approach to him…that’s your argument?  Well I guess it’s better than the roulette wheel.

      • Noah_I

        Considering walks don’t effect BABIP, the number of times he was walked plays no role on BABIP.  I’m just saying that from 2002-2004 you can’t flat out say Bonds was walking so much because his eye was so amazing.  It was, but a part of all the walks is no one threw to him.

        And walks don’t effect BABIP.  I don’t see evidence in the BABIP that he was suddenly making different kinds of contact in 2006 than he was in 2004.  You cited IFFB rate, but that was lower in ’06 than it was in ’02-’04.  The only difference I can find is that his HR/FB rate went way down, turning numbers that wouldn’t be a part of the BABIP equation into outs that are figured by BABIP.  But I don’t see evidence these were pop ups on the infield, as opposed to maybe he just wasn’t as good a hitter anymore coming off a major injury at age 41.

        The players come up with explanations for things all the time, just as people come up with reasons or excuses for why things happened.  There has to be a reason, some active I did that made this something good happen.  Or there has to be something I did wrong or that was out of my control that made this bad thing happen.  When a lot of times it’s just random chance.  This applies in baseball as well.

        It isn’t all random chance, of course.  Baseball is of course a mixture of talent, hard work and random chance.  But random chance plays a big, big role.  And, typically, you can only note that something isn’t random chance too long after the fact for it to matter.  If everyone could see the little changes that need to be made to make players better, Jose Bautistas would be common.  But they aren’t.

      • Norm Bothwell

        You’re still stuck on this belief that I care what the explanations are. In the end, the conclusion you get will be the same; Kemp’s BABIP will decrease.

  • Noah_I

    Since there’s no room to respond to our above line of discussion, I’d say yes, it’s pretty impossible to not reject advanced metrics if you aren’t willing to admit the effect of random variation in baseball, particularly over small sample sizes.  It’s not like you have to agree on all things.  You can perfectly reasonably argue that you think ERA or WHIP is a better indicator of future success than FIP.  You could like ERA and WHIP more because you prefer indicators of what actually happened over stats that try to show what it believes should have happened.  You could say OBP is overrated.  You could say the defensive advanced metrics are too unreliable to be worth looking at.  I’d disagree with all these things, but they are reasonable arguments.  But no, you can’t say really say you care about advanced metrics if you don’t think random variation plays a major role in baseball. 

    • Jedi

      That’s an unbelievable oversimplification and misrepresentation.  It’s a common sabertactic too – I’ve said MULTIPLE times on this post alone (back to the original question at hand) that I’m sure luck (or as you’ve so delicately termed it: random variation) did play a part in Reed Johnson’s BABIP variance.  I’m also sure it’s not the only factor – or even the predominant one.  A guy could just be healthier too you know…but that’d just be luck…er, random variation I know.

      • Noah_I

        Do you have any evidence that Reed Johnson was injured 2009 or 2010?  And let’s say Reed Johnson slides back to his pre-2011 numbers against RHPs, including his pre-2011 BABIP.  And he’s completely healthy.  Nothing else changes.  Then what are you going to chalk his 2011 performance of a month’s worth of at bats over a course of an entire season to?  Unless he can repeat what he did, being healthier, driving the ball to the opposite field with more authority, or anything else are just guesses.  Random variation in baseball has been proven.  Like any statistic, there are standard deviations in baseball.  And standard deviations can be very large, especially when the sample sizes are small.

      • Jedi

        “anything else are just guesses” – including luck.

      • Jedi

        I didn’t say Reed Johnson was injured in ’09 or ’10 – don’t develop Norm’s penchant for routinely misrepresenting people as the basis of your argument.

      • Norm Bothwell

         LOL, coming from the guy who writes lies about what I say…
        Here’s a tip for your 2012 fantasy baseball team, Free of charge. Evan Longoria, Mark Teixeira, and Ian Kinsler are going to see their BABIPs go up while Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, and Emilio Bonifacio will see their’s decrease.
        And I didn’t even have to analyze anything to come to that conclusion!

      • Jedi

        There’s the Norm I know – ad hominem attacks for which there’s zero support.  Fling that roulette wheel another hundred times and let’s see what horrible explanations appear.  Story-telling stats, guys getting claimed off of but also clearing waivers, a psychic’s sense for front office moves in August…don’t ever lose your elitist know-it-all charm.

  • Noah_I

    Since there’s no room to respond to our above line of discussion, I’d say yes, it’s pretty impossible to not reject advanced metrics if you aren’t willing to admit the effect of random variation in baseball, particularly over small sample sizes.  It’s not like you have to agree on all things.  You can perfectly reasonably argue that you think ERA or WHIP is a better indicator of future success than FIP.  You could like ERA and WHIP more because you prefer indicators of what actually happened over stats that try to show what it believes should have happened.  You could say OBP is overrated.  You could say the defensive advanced metrics are too unreliable to be worth looking at.  I’d disagree with all these things, but they are reasonable arguments.  But no, you can’t say really say you care about advanced metrics if you don’t think random variation plays a major role in baseball. 

    • Jedi

      That’s an unbelievable oversimplification and misrepresentation.  It’s a common sabertactic too – I’ve said MULTIPLE times on this post alone (back to the original question at hand) that I’m sure luck (or as you’ve so delicately termed it: random variation) did play a part in Reed Johnson’s BABIP variance.  I’m also sure it’s not the only factor – or even the predominant one.  A guy could just be healthier too you know…but that’d just be luck…er, random variation I know.

      • Noah_I

        Do you have any evidence that Reed Johnson was injured 2009 or 2010?  And let’s say Reed Johnson slides back to his pre-2011 numbers against RHPs, including his pre-2011 BABIP.  And he’s completely healthy.  Nothing else changes.  Then what are you going to chalk his 2011 performance of a month’s worth of at bats over a course of an entire season to?  Unless he can repeat what he did, being healthier, driving the ball to the opposite field with more authority, or anything else are just guesses.  Random variation in baseball has been proven.  Like any statistic, there are standard deviations in baseball.  And standard deviations can be very large, especially when the sample sizes are small.

      • Jedi

        “anything else are just guesses” – including luck.

  • Eddie Von White

    Man, what a waste of time!