TwinsCentric was formed by Twins super-bloggers Seth Stohs, Nick Nelson, Parker Hageman and John Bonnes. Together they publish at TwinsDaily.com and have authored books, e-books and magazines that provide independent and in-depth coverage of the Minnesota Twins from a fan's perspective. You can contact them at TwinsCentric@gmail.com.

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Baseball’s Stats and Data: Front Office Savvy or Full-Blown Nerdery?

Posted by: Parker Hageman Updated: February 25, 2010 - 10:46 PM

Of all the members of the TwinsCentric group, I’m probably the resident stathead. This doesn’t mean I’m particularly statistically inclined mind you, it just means that I’m a little more versed in the subject then the rest. To better illustrate: I'm fairly certain that Seth Stohs thinks that UZR is a member of the Wu Tang clan.

Being a stathead does not mean that I pour over a calculator or dream about pi or only see a baseball game the way Rain Man would. A dirty little secret: I hate math. Nothing sucks the life out of a conversation quicker then when someone starts spouting mathemathical problems at me. My eyes go crossed, I lose consciousness and hit my head on something hard on the way down. Nevertheless statistics and empirical data are a necessary components of analyzing baseball and, as a baseball analyst, I’ll be throwing fistfuls of acronyms at you on a weekly basis that go beyond RBI and ERA (and attempt to explain why you should strived to look beyond the standard numbers as well).

Why are stats and numbers important to baseball? After all, it’s not like pitchers are throwing equations to hitters, right?

Baseball organizations, like big-time financial investors, recognize that there are millions of dollars at stake. While brokers cannot 100% accurately predict the market’s future activity, they still attempt to gather as much data as possible that will hopefully led them to better decisions. Baseball shares much of the same volatility and level of predictability. It’s no small wonder that game’s recent darlings of the sabermetric community, the Tampa Bay Rays, have a front office that is made up of veterans of the investment banking world. They see a strong correlation between the two industries in attempting to predict the seemingly unpredictable. Those teams that are not using some form of statistical analysis to supplement their scouting departments are putting themselves at a disadvantage and behind the curve. 

At my site, Over the Baggy, I treat my posts as if Bill Smith or Ron Gardenhire had requested a quick due diligence report of a proposed transaction, recent acquisition or the state of the current roster. Obviously, traditional scouting is indispensable but a human cannot recall every minute detail throughout the duration of a 162-game season, therefore, the majority of my methods include some variables of advance statistics of one form or another to support my conclusions. With all due respect to Mark Twain, eyes and emotions lie too. That’s why I turn to data supplied at sites like FanGraphs.com and Baseball-Reference.com while infusing other numbers siphoned from MLB.com’s Pitch F/X system or HitTrackerOnline.com to guide me to logical counsel.

As a point of order, not all data (advanced or otherwise) should be accepted as gospel. Some can be misleading, some are misused, some dilute and some are still in the infancy (like pitch f/x and defensive metrics). Numbers, if used properly, can feed us a lot of information that have real-life applications in baseball. They can help managers play percentages better. They can help a general manager make a sage decision when deciding to promote a player or sign someone to a lucrative long-term deal. The numbers can help exploit areas of weaknesses and strengths.

Data can act as a diagnostics test. Take newly acquired shortstop JJ Hardy. Hardy had troubles with left-handed pitching during his 2009 boondoggle of a season. "Troubles" might be soft. Simply put, southpaws turned him into a mess at the plate. In 101 plate appearances against the sinister, the right-handed hitting Hardy managed a lowly .169/.310/.229 batting line.

As a consulting writer for Inside Edge, a scouting service that provides data to major league teams and media outlets, I culled through pitch-by-pitch breakdowns that have detailed locations of practically every pitch thrown collected by video scouts employed by the Minneapolis-based company. What was revealed was that last season Hardy was unable to handle pitches from lefties on the outer-half of the strike zone - an area of strength for him in year's past. If I’m Joe Vavra and I am privy to this information, I’m going to see this deficiency, try to identify whatever part of his mechanics leave him susceptible to those pitches and go to work correcting it this spring. While video scouting alone may reveal the culprit eventually, knowing where and what to look for is a distinct advantage. Walking through a mine field will help you locate mines but a map and metal detector would greatly assist in the matter.

There are limitless advantages for a team that opts to embrace the numbers rather than shun them like I did calculus in high school. The use of pitch details is just one example of how an organization can apply data or statistics as a means to improving the team. As the season progresses, I’ll be using this space to introduce, elaborate and emphasize the concepts behind stats and how it pertains to the Minnesota Twins season.

 


After leaving your thoughts on the use of stats and data in the comment section, be sure to check out the rest of the TwinsCentric offerings:

  • Nick Nelson runs down his Twins Top 10 list.
  • Seth Stohs talked with Twins prospects Danny Valenica and Allen de San Miguel as well as the Twins Geek, John Bonnes, on The Show with Seth Stohs.
  • Meanwhile, Bonnes also promised to visit the subject of the Hormel Row of Fame in the near future.
  • I took a look at Kevin Slowey's recent remarks involving his wrist rehab and what it could mean in terms of 2010. You can also find me tweeting throughout the day here.
  • If you haven't ordered a copy of the Maple Street Press Twins Annual 2010 yet - produced by TwinsCentric and some other very good Twins bloggers - you can do so here.
  • Finally, keep the March 13th date open for the TwinsCentric Viewing Party at Major's in Apple Valley. In addition to specials on food and drinks, customers will have the opportunity to win numerous prizes including tickets to Target Field.

 

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