Questions & Answers with Mitchel Lichtman

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mgl
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Post by mgl »

RC21 wrote:Mitchel-

Thank you for taking our questions. We all appreciate you taking the time to chat with us.

-What was the thought process that went into the Eckstein acquisition following Edgar Renteria's departure? Did any of your metrics allay concerns within the front office about a potential dropoff, defensively, from Renteria to Eckstein?
Last question of the night. The decision was relatively simple and easy. Based on my marginal win projection for Renteria, it was determined that he would be too expensive given his projected value. My general rule is that 2 mil or less per marginal win is a good deal. 3 mil is marginal and 4 mil or more is a rip-off. It is not that simple, but that is a good rule of thumb.

Eckstein was a steal at the time, given my projection for his marginal run/win value. It didn't matter whether he was projected to be better or worse than Renteria. That is not how you run a team successfully (at least as far as making money is concerned). You only compare one player to another in terms of dollars per marginal win, given a certain amount of money you can/want to spend overall or per marginal win.

Bascially, Renteria was overrated by most teams (and I'm sure by his agent) because he had a career year in 03 (for a SS at least). Also, he was on the downside of his career in 04, at 28/29 years of age. His defense was in fact excellent perennially (although it tanked in 05 for some reason, at least according to UZR and other advanced metrics), but his hitting was really not all that great. He was also well-known for having the series winning base hit versus Jose Mesa in the 97 WS.

For some reason Eckstein was very underrated. His defense was underrated because, although his range, as reflected in the advanced defensive metrics, was above average, he was known to have a "weak arm" and was not considered very rangy by the scouts for some reason. His offense was underrated because he was an OBP guy rather than a power hitter. And finally, he was underrated in general because he looks like your little brother playing on a high school JV team. Scouts don't like players like that.

Both he and Grud were steals when we signed them and I think that they lived up to our expectations of them and more.

Unfortunately we could not find similar steals this year at 2B and at the corner outfield positions. There simply were not any available. The team did not want to resign Grud for some reason, although I am unaware why.
-How do you view pitchers with high groundball ratios? Your affiliation with the team coincided pretty strongly with a switch from pitchers with mild to heavy flyball tendencies (Garret Stephenson, Brett Tomko, Jeff Fassero) to pitchers with mild to heavy groundball tendencies (Suppan, Marquis, Tavarez, Mulder). Can you explain some of the in-depth logic on your end that went into that thought process, if indeed it was a conscious decision to chase groundball pitchers?
Not a conscious decision on my part - and it shouldn't be. Obviously, if you happen to have a better infield than OF (defensively), you would prefer a groundball staff if you can help it, and vice versa. Other than that, it does not matter if a pitcher is GB or FB (sure, on the average, GB pitchers are better pitchers than FB pitchers) pitcher, once you have a projection on that pitcher. I compute very good projections on pitchers that incorporate the type of batted balls they give up. That's all you need to know.

Keep in mind that the value of a GB is about the same as the value of a FB, even including the GDP. It is just that on the average FB pitchers tend to give up more HR's than GB pitchers. Not always true - just on the average. In general, what is important for a pitcher is a good K rate, a low BB rate, and a low HR rate. If you have 2 of those 3 things, you are generally a good pitcher. If you have 3 of 3, you are generally a great pitcher. If you have only 1 of 3, you generally are mediocre at best. It does not really matter whether you are a FB or GB pitcher. Of the three fly ball pitchers you mentioned, they were all simply mediocre to bad pitchers, regardless of their FB/GB tendencies.

Of the ground ball pitchers you mentioned, Suppan is OK, Marquis is mediocre to bad (both immensely helped by excellent infield defense and of course good run support from an excellent lineup), Mulder is good, but nor nearly as good as he used to be (for whatever reason), and Tavarez was excellent versus righties but useless versus lefties (and great when you needed a ground ball), like Looper. Carp is really the only excellent pitcher we have now (and he is indeed top-notch), at least in the rotation.

We have a very good, but nor nearly as good as the last 2 years, team because we still have a very good lineup (again, not nearly as good as last year and the year before) with good defense, and a good, but not great (or even very good) pitching staff (starters and bullpen). Our future is a big concern (to me at least), especially when Jimmy is gone, which appears to be soon I would imagine.

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StatmanCrothers
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Post by StatmanCrothers »

Mitchel,

Thanks so much for all the great info. I find myself nodding a lot and saying YES! WELL PUT! when reading your answers.

I had trouble coming up with a good question because I already seem to know everything. :D

I am more from a probability background than a pure stats background, so in 1995 when I got my hands on the Baseball Workshop play by play database for an entire season (purchased for $100 on a floppy from... um... the Baseball Workshop guy whose name escapes me) the first thing I did with it was basically (re)invent Win Shares and do some graphs of Win Probability for Cardinals games... names like Jordan Gilkey and Lankford were dancing in Excel graphs... I showed it to some of my fantasy baseball cohorts and their eyes glazed over, they chuckled and said what will that guy think of next. The spreadsheet was huge and computers were slow and I shelved it. I did tell them "In ten years everyone will evaluate games like this" ... I'm somewhat surprised that it is coming true.

After I "invented" win probabilities I later found out I had reinvented the wheel, I saw something similar in "The Hidden Game of Football" and later read someone had done something like it in the 60s, by hand! This is not surprising, it is a very logical way to think about the game to anyone with a creative mind and background in probability. This leads me to question 1....
What is the sound of one hand clapping?
oops, that's not it... wrong note card... ah, here it is, question 1:
What is the earliest known "invention" of a probabalistic approach such as Win Probabilities (or even Run Shares) in the analysis of baseball?
Second subject, remember those Sagarin rating things in the USA Today where he would run some simulations of how many runs "a team of 9 Barry Bonds" would score -- perhaps those are still published, I'm not sure. Didn't anyone ever tell that guy about Markov chains? Rhetorical question, I'm sure he's a smart dude doing his best.

Anyway, this is similar to a RC/27 type of evaluation, except for someone like Bonds, as valuable as he is, this is way overinflated because he is drawing lots of walks and then driving himself in with his HRs... the walks increase the value of the HRs and vice versa.... you alluded to this when talking about considering this effect when evaluating pitchers and teams, and how it did not apply to batters (since they do not, in fact, play on a team with 8 clones.... I just shuddered thinking of 8 clones of Barry Bonds... but I digress)

One way I like to evaluate a player is (R+RBI)/2 per Outs. Very simple but effective. True Run Shares or RC would be better but, simplicity is nice too.

However, in some respects this type of calculation (regardless of your "R" metric used) has a very subtle catch that is similar to the Sagarin flaw.

Consider Case 1:
HR Out Out Out


Case 2:
2B 1B Out Out Out
Let's assume both created the same number of Runs by whatever metric we are using. Both made 3 outs. Equivalent? Not really.
One of them did it in 4 plate appearance, one did it in 5. In a team context, if this is "above average" performance, and it is, then the player who did this in 4 Plate appearances will "repeat" his performance more often than the other player. Not obvious? Bear with me.

So I came up with the following.

I like to use 4.5 runs per game as a constant "baseline" for an "average" team because it changes every year anyway and it is a nice "1 run every 2 innnings"

Let's think about how many plate apperances our average team has. If we assume an average OBP of 1/3 which is fair,then our Out% is 2/3. you are either getting on base or making an out. okay.

so for our baseline player, Outs/PA = 2/3
at 1 run per 6 outs, this equates to = Runs/PA = (2/3)*(1/6)= 1/9

Now the simple part.

How does our example player factor into a team of 8 of these guys?

well he has 1 PA for each 8 PA of his teammates, so we just do a weighted sum at a ratio of 8:1 and THEN and only THEN do we divide
Runs/PA by the Outs/PA to get our final Runs/Out number for the combination.

So for example 1:

Runs / PA = 8*(1/9) + 1 run / 4 PA = 8/9 + 1/4 = 41/36
Outs / PA = 8*(2/3) + 3 outs / 4 PA = 16/3 + 3/4 = 73/12

Runs/Outs = (41/36)*(12/73) = (41/3)/73 = 0.187
Runs/27 = 5.05 RPG
Compared to 4.5 RPG this is +0.55

For example 2:

8/9 + 1/5 = 49/45
16/3 + 3/5 = 89/15

Runs/Outs = (49/45)*(15/89) = (49/3)/89 = 0.1835
Runs/27 = 4.96 RPG
Compared to 4.5 RPG this is +0.46

So in summary, I think it is very important to look NOT just at RC/27 or any similar (Productivity per out) for a player, but to put that in a team context you must put it it terms of

RC/PA and Outs/PA

and only after factoring that into a team context can you take a true measure of RC/Outs for the combination of that player in a lineup.

Which brings me to question 2:
What is your destiny?
Oops, wrong card again....

question 2:
Has anyone else realized this or am I reinventing the wheel again?

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tangotiger
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Post by tangotiger »

Reinventing.

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skmsw
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Post by skmsw »

MGL wrote:
skmsw wrote:Recognizing that different teams have different needs, in general, is a top-20% defensive catcher or shortstop with an OPS+ of 75 preferable over a bottom-20% defensive catcher or shortstop with an OPS+ of 100-110?
I hate to sound like a broken record, but these are all silly and counterproductive traditional concepts in baseball. Whatever gives a team the best total marginal win value for any given price is optimal. Obviously if you are weak in one area, it is generally easier to improve in that area. But if you have an opporunity to upgrade at a position in which you are strong, say by 1 marginal win, and it will cost you 2 million to do so, as opposed to upgrading 1 marginal win for 3 mil at a position in which you are weak, you choose the former. It is really quite simple.
Hi mgl,

thanks a lot for taking the time to answer our questions, appreciate it.

My question above wasn't very clear, but I think you nevertheless answered it quite well, especially in your response to a couple other posters with related questons. Would the following be in keeping with your comments throughout this thread?

1) having a strong defensive catcher is no more important than having strong defense at other positions; and

2) the value of strong defense does not offset that player's weak offense quite the way that conventional wisdom usually believes; that is, if Yadi Molina was 18 fielding runs above average in 2005, but 15 batting runs below average, we're not necessarily any better off than if someone else were catching who had 3 batting runs above average and zero fielding runs above average at a similar salary.

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Post by ghostrunner »

mgl wrote: It was not until around 5 years ago that I started publishing some of my work and ideas informally on the web, mostly on the old Primer and Fanhome websites (I don't and have never had my own web site). About 2 1/2 years ago, someone from the Cards front office "discovered" me, read some of my work, talked to some people who knew me and my work, talked to me, and was impressed enough to hire me as a consultant for a 2-year stint. They were trying to build an analytical department from the ground up at the time, spearheaded by Jeff Luhnow.
Couple of quick ones:

Does this mean you no longer work for the Cards?

and

I'm always curious about sports writers and analysts, in terms of how their work affects their team allegiances and general enjoyment of the game. I only know of a few writers who are able or willing to show both their passionate and analytical sides in print. In short, my question is - did you have a favorite team before you began your work, and has that changed? Or has your work led you to become a fan of players as opposed to teams?

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Post by Reverend Redbird »

mgl wrote:
Keep in mind that the value of a GB is about the same as the value of a FB, even including the GDP. It is just that on the average FB pitchers tend to give up more HR's than GB pitchers. Not always true - just on the average. In general, what is important for a pitcher is a good K rate, a low BB rate, and a low HR rate. If you have 2 of those 3 things, you are generally a good pitcher. If you have 3 of 3, you are generally a great pitcher. If you have only 1 of 3, you generally are mediocre at best. It does not really matter whether you are a FB or GB pitcher. Of the three fly ball pitchers you mentioned, they were all simply mediocre to bad pitchers, regardless of their FB/GB tendencies.

Of the ground ball pitchers you mentioned, Suppan is OK, Marquis is mediocre to bad (both immensely helped by excellent infield defense and of course good run support from an excellent lineup), Mulder is good, but nor nearly as good as he used to be (for whatever reason), and Tavarez was excellent versus righties but useless versus lefties (and great when you needed a ground ball), like Looper. Carp is really the only excellent pitcher we have now (and he is indeed top-notch), at least in the rotation.
Good info.

Anthony Reyes seems to have at least 2 out of the 3 qualities you mentioned. So far in AAA he's walked 5 and struck out 40. He's been good at keeping the ball in the park up until this season. Yet the Cards are still throwing Marquis out there every 5th day. Why?

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deputyfife
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Post by deputyfife »

So is it safe to say that the Cardinals should have kept Barton, and kept him at catcher (same goes for A's), no matter his bad defense, because he would bring such an advantage offensively over any other available catcher?

Would this also indicate that a prospect like Anderson should be kept at catcher no matter what? (at least, until he is getting passed balls on every third pitch?)

if tangotiger or mgl come back and see this, can your methods point to a particular reason why Mulder does not appear to be the same pitcher he was 3 years ago?

Also, when you equate a dollar amount ($3m) for each marginal win, is that dollar amount what you (consider as a sound investment to) pay over the average salary, or are you computing total salary to be $3m*marginalwins?

mgl
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correction

Post by mgl »

TangoTiger corrected a few things from my last post. I'll quote him here:
The spread in player talent is about the following:
hitting: 1 SD = 15 runs per 162 GP
pitching 1 SD = 12 runs per 162 IP
fielding: 1 SD = 9 runs pe 162 GP

If you treat them all differently, then the allocation is simply 15/36, 12/36, 9/36, making you think that pitching is 33%.

However, a player is a hitter+fielder. The numbers above now become
nonpitcher: 1 SD = 18 runs per 162 GP
pitcher: 1 SD = 12 runs per 162 IP

Now, pitching is 40%. You just have to be real careful how you answer your question.
I think his SD for defensive talent is too high and for pitchers and hitters, it is too low. I'll have to check where he got his figs from. They are easy enough to compute.

***
To clarify MGL's GB/FB... the run value of a GB and FB are very close, as long as you remove the HR out of the equation. The run value of the FB, including the HR, is like .10 runs higher than the GB, which is why, generally, you prefer the GB pitcher. If you have a FB pitcher that doesn't give up alot of HR, or a FB pitcher that Ks alot, those pitchers start to become more valuable.
He is right of course, and I misspoke when I said that the value of the FB and GB were the same. As he indicates, I meant the value of the FB and GB non-hr batted ball.

One more minor thing which he corrected me on. I don't know if anyone else caught it, but for a RHP, you want better defense on the RIGHT side of the infield (for the LHB's) and vice versa, of course. I wrote it the other way around.

mgl
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Post by mgl »

robbotis wrote:What stats are the best indication of a minor league hitter carrying success to the major league level? I know Billy Beane's theory, but wonder yours. Who currently in the Cards Minor League organization bests illustrates those numbers?
Honestly, I don't know. The best indication of major league success is minor league success, overall, after adjusting for context of course (IOW, using park adjusted MLE's or major league equivalancies).

That being said, if a player has good strike zone judgement and not a whole lot of power in the minors, he is more likely to develop power, especially if he is not yet physically mature, than the other way around.

And I don't follow players in the minors, although I'm sure one of our other analysts could answer that question.

mgl
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Post by mgl »

planet pujolsian wrote:Hi Mitchel,

What a pleasure!

When weighting a player's potential based on their body of work, do you weight most recent 3 yr. averages, their career body of work, or their most recent year more heavily?
Thanks. That is easy. The best predictor of a player's future performance (and estimate of his true overall talent), after normalizing and adjusting each year for context, age, injury, etc., is a weighted average of ALL his prior years plus a regression towards the mean. The approximate correct weights are that each prior year has around 80% of the weight of the subsequent year. We often use 3 or 4 years only as a "short cut," as once you go back 5 or more years the weights of those years become deminimus. The amount you regress that weighted average depends on the total number of historical PA's (after adjusting them for the weights as well), and the mean you regress towards depends on your estimate of the population the player comes from.
I think we realize it was slim pickings in RF free agent market last year. Can you tell us what stood out about Encarnacion above what the other candidates offered (i.e. Jones, Burnitz, Sanders, Wilson)?

Thanks!
Encarnacion was a shaky signing at best. As you say, there were slim pickings. The player I wanted, who was expensive but a decent bargain, was Giles. Whether we could have gotten him for a similar price that SD resigned him for, I don't know. He probably would have commanded a lot more money to sign with another team, and he may not have wanted to leave SD at all.

Encarnacion is a good defensive player, which is where his main value is. He is probably a true CF'er, which is in fact probably where he belongs, given his weak hitting. We did not expect him to hit a whole lot especially versus RH pitching. He probably should be platooned with just about any lefty who is decent defensively, especially with a GB pitcher on the mound (where Encarnacion's good defense is mitigated). He'll probably age fairly well and he can back up in CF if we need him there. He was a poor baserunner, even though he is fast. Maybe the hope was that we could improve his baserunning skills. I don't know. I don't know whether you can improve a 29 yo's baserunning skills. It was not a great signing, IMO, to say the least, but as you said, there was not a whole lot available at the time. I would not have signed him for nearly that price, but it's not my money.

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