Baseball, perhaps more than any other sport, is a game of numbers. Whether used to help define a playerĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s level of talent, to document records or to tally how often Prince Fielder says Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“You knowĂ˘â‚¬Âť in an interview, numerals and mathematics in general prove increasingly important elements to contemporary baseball. As the sport evolves through time, so too do the statistics that comprise it. To help explain some lesser known, Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“sabermetricĂ˘â‚¬Âť aspects of the ever-changing analysis of baseball, IĂ˘â‚¬â„˘ve asked Jack Moore, a University of Wisconsin mathematics major and Beyond the Box Score author some questions pertaining to baseball and, more specifically, our Brewers.
Bugs & Cranks: WAR. What is it good for? According to Edwin Starr, absolutely nothing. But IĂ˘â‚¬â„˘ve never been one to place trust in 1970s soul singers. Briefly, what is WAR in the saber sense, and which Brewer presents the best WAR?
Jack Moore: WAR stands for Wins Above Replacement. The idea behind the statistic is to quantify a playerĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s total offensive and defensive contribution to his team, relative to a replacement player. A replacement player is the type of player that bounces between different teams as well as between AAA and the majors. Basically, you can think of it as Wins Above Bill Hall, or in the case of pitchers, Wins Above Mike Burns. 2 wins above replacement is average, 4 wins is an all-star season, and a 7 or 8 win season is a Hall-of-Fame type season.
So far this season, Braun and Fielder are leading the Brewers at 4.5 and 4.2 wins respectively. Gallardo leads the pitching staff at 2.6.
B&C: Making a paltry $1M this season, Craig Counsell has proven himself quite a bargain to Milwaukee. Quite possibly more impressive is how Counsell has managed such respectable numbers while posting a perceived age quotient (12.5 years) that nears the lowest in baseball. Are there any variables that can be adjusted to increase CounsellĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s quotient into the teens?
JM: I think thatĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s a very dangerous proposition. CounsellĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s low age quotient helps keep some balance in the Brewers clubhouse, considering Jason Kendall hits (and looks) like he should be collecting social security. However, perhaps improving CounsellĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s FH% (Facial Hair Percentage) could increase his age quotient.
B&C: What is Corey HartĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s VORH (Value Over Replacement Hillbilly)?
JM: Considering that your replacement hillbilly probably could not hit his way out of A-ball, and Corey is a slightly below average major league outfielder, I would guess that he comes in at 5 goats, 10 pigs, and 25 chickens, due to his slightly above average hitting but slightly below average defense in a corner outfield spot. However, because VORH requires a paid membership at Hillbilly Prospectus, this is only a crude estimate. For comparisonĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s sake, my estimate of Adam DunnĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s VORH would come in at a whopping 10 cows, 30 sheep, and a barn.
B&C: In Saber-speak UZR stands for Ultimate Zone Rating. If you could, apply UZR to levels of Miller Park, based on concessions, booze diversity and any other relevant variables.
JM: It would be difficult to apply UZR in this case. However, there is a stat that would be perfect for this type of analysis: Penultimate Zone Rating, or PZR, which is perfect for identifying the best zones for fans. The formula for PZR is much simpler than the calculation of UZR, but itĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s still not exactly 3rd-grade arithmetic.
PZR = (3*(SSG) + 2*(ML + MGD) + 1.5*(d(S, HP) + A(Field)))/(SC)
Where SSG = Stadium Sauce (gallons), ML = Miller Lite, MGD = MGD, duh, d(S, HP) = distance from seat to home plate in meters, A(Field) = visible area of the field and (SC) = seat cost.
Due to the seat cost variable, PZR really loves the Uecker seats. The formula may have to be adjusted after the season.
B&C: ItĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s obvious fan cheers and heckles have significant bearing on the overall performance of a specific team or player. Based on your calculations, what cheers correlate most with on-field excellence? Which jeers with on-field failure?
JM: The best research on this subject involves the correlation between the density of swear words in the park compared to team winning percentage. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“Density of swear wordsĂ˘â‚¬Âť attempts to identify not only the number, but the power of swear words. For example, one f-word is worth 3.5 s-words and worth a whopping 35 a-words. Adding Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“motherĂ˘â‚¬Âť before the f-word more than doubles its effect. In this case, we measure in terms of f-words per fan in attendance. Due to the novelty of this data, small sample size caveats apply, but it seems like team performance peaks right around the 1 F-word/fan level (likely given the high numbers of kids who donĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t know swears). At levels both below this level (examples: PIT, WAS, FLA, and other teams with high levels of fan apathy) and above this level (teams with high expectations that are failing miserably, such as the Mets and the Cubs), performance drops steadily. Of course, there can be outliers with teams like the Yankees and Red Sox, who have fans that swear a lot regardless of team performance, because theyĂ˘â‚¬â„˘re assholes.
B&C: What variables are in the equation explaining Jeff SuppanĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s overall shittiness? I realize contract is part of it, but there must be various other aspects to contribute to the sum of one regrettable Brewers sign.
JM: The problem with Jeff Suppan is that he never actually had anything more than below average pitching talent. His Fielding Independent Pitching ERA, or FIP, has never been significantly below 4.50. FIP is based on three things that a pitcher has control over: strikeout rate, walk rate, and home run rate. FIP is a much better predictor of future performance than ERA is, and if Doug Melvin had looked at FIP, heĂ˘â‚¬â„˘d know that signing a 32-year-old pitcher with the following career path would have the result weĂ˘â‚¬â„˘ve seen here in Milwaukee.
The dip in ERA with St. Louis combined with SuppanĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s NLCS MVP in 2006 made Melvin think he was getting something heĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s not. Even if Melvin was expecting an average pitcher, he shouldnĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t have expected that for four years out of a 32 year old whose absolute peak was league average. SuppanĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s decline has been completely predictable if we look at statistics that look at process instead of results.
B&C: While researching sabermetric terms to ask you about, I stumbled upon a stat called Pitch f/x. Since that seems boring and difficult to understand, IĂ˘â‚¬â„˘ll instead ask you to pretend IĂ˘â‚¬â„˘m an executive for the FX Network. Pitch me a premise for the networkĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s next hit comedy series.
JM: IĂ˘â‚¬â„˘m going to ignore that and instead talk about the incredible, exciting new technology that is Pitch F/X. Using multiple cameras and laser systems set up around the field, Pitch F/X tracks the complete path of the ball from the pitcherĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s hand all the way to the plate. This technology can tell us a lot about a pitcher Ă˘â‚¬â€ś is his fastball losing velocity? Did his curveball lose some break from last season? Is his release point consistent?
B&C: A recent post I read gave the Brewers a 1.3 percent chance to make the playoffs. Could you assemble a short list of natural disasters, scientific anomalies or religious phenomena presently more likely to occur than a Brewers playoff berth?
JM: Well then, you are behind the times. Baseball ProspectusĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s projection system, PECOTA, gives the Brewers a .3% chance to make the playoffs as of Aug. 24. ThatĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s a 332 to 1 chance. So, in all seriousness, all of the following things have a better chance of happening to you than the Brewers making the playoffs.
Ă˘â‚¬Â˘ Dating a millionaire
Ă˘â‚¬Â˘ Being on a plane with a drunken pilot
Ă˘â‚¬Â˘ Having your identity stolen
Ă˘â‚¬Â˘ At least one of you or your nine best friends getting struck by lightning in their lifetime
Ă˘â‚¬Â˘ Dying of assault by firearm
Ă˘â‚¬Â˘ Getting colon/rectal cancer (this oneĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s WAY higher).
But, at least weĂ˘â‚¬â„˘re nowhere near this one:
Ă˘â‚¬Â˘ The Cubs winning the world series in your lifetime