SSI on the Value of Spring Training Performance
Sorry. It ain't zero.

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Q.  Can you make any sense of spring training statistics?

A.  Different stats have different levels of "noise" in them.  Ichiro's career batting average has noise in it, but it's about 2%, not counting park context.  Ichiro's career range factor has noise in it, too, but the noise is something more like (?) 30%.

Baseball sabermetricians are really cruddy at estimating the AMOUNT OF noise in a particular statistic.  A sense of proportion is almost completely lacking in the industry.  Sabermigos are great at math; they're not so great at common sense.

We mean it in a good way.

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Q.  How much noise is in there in spring training stats?

A.  Oh ... what would it be?  60%?  Something like that.  

One of the few sabermigos who does have a sense of proportion:  Jeff Sullivan.  Read this article by him.  He points out various [huge] sources of noise in ST stats.

It is very, very challenging to make sense of a phenomenon when your metrics are diluted with 60% noise.  When you've got 60%, 70% noise, and you run a "study" (sic!) asking about the value of the stats, your study is going to suggest NO value to the metric unless you know how to design it.  

But I'll guarantee you that there is some "study" that will show the phenomenon being reflected at some level of consistency.  Give me all of the home run leaders in Arizona, past twenty years -- even first-week leaders -- and I'll guarantee that their presence is reflected in MLB regular-season slugging leaderboards, at some level of confidence.  It might be only a .20 correlation, but there will be a correlation.  Which is the same thing as saying that ST stats are not worth zero.

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Q.  SSI thinks that spring performance is worth something?  How much?

A.  Not much, usually.  In a few cases it becomes critical.  

Kendrys Morales might be just tinkering.  Felix' results are unimportant, unless he walks a guy per inning.

Jason Bay vs Casper Wells is going to be important; both guys are playing for a job and both guys are out there competing.  Jon Garland and Jeremy Bonderman are going to be competing.

.........

The 2nd-worst thing you can do with such metrics is to assume that the noise is small - and to treat the metrics as though they are reliable with no further thought.  Many casual fans do this.  

I doubt any SSI or LL or USSM readers do this, and I hate to see the kind of condescension that assumes a web-literate fan to be unaware of the noise in ST stats.

...........

The VERY worst thing you can do is to assume that since you don't like a metric, and you don't know how to edit out the noise, and you don't know how to design a study in which correlations are found --- > then the metric must be worth ZERO.

ST stats aren't worth MUCH, in BULK.  But to imagine that every player's ST performance is irrelevant is incredibly naive.  If Jeremy Bonderman walks more guys than he strikes out, he's going home.  If he fans 20 guys and walks 2, then with the time off and re-boot, that means that he's probably going to have a good year by his own standards.

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Q.  When are MLB teams going to wake up and ...

A.  Hold on right there, Turbo.  Just. Stop.

Consider this statement, from an author who higher on the very same web page had strictly forbidden any and all "appeals to authority":

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Or, you know, you could use a projection based on more than just the last season’s data point. Which is what every good organization in baseball does.

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I'll tell you something else every good organization in baseball every organization in baseball does.  Consider. Spring. Training. Performance.

We might slow down, draw a breath, and ask a simple question.

Why does every MLB organization watch ST performance carefully?  Why do all "good" MLB organizations (at least occasionally) make roster decisions based on spring results?

Org's don't just watch tools and skills.  They also watch performance and results.  All of them do. They understand about noise, understand with 100% crystal clarity.  They're out there watching, aware that ST very often misleads you, and still factoring ST performance as one variable in the equation.

Why would that be?

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NEXT

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Chat: 8/3/15 7:02am
Interests: Strange Money (204063)
    Shouts update every 10 seconds.       
2015-08-04 16:24

Dombrowski out in #Detroit. Thoughts on him as GM or Baseball Ops Prez here in #Seattle? If so, might he stick with McClendon?

2015-08-04 09:38

Research has shown that pitches at Coors Field (that's ALL pitches) move about 50% less than they do at sea level. You don't need a daily variability to explain last night. Felix had command of his curve and threw it for strikes, but was wise enough not to throw it very often last night because it wasn't breaking much. That's normal. The only pitchers who have success at Coors are guys with heavy fastballs thrown at a downward plane and a good change-speed game that doesn't require movement to work. Carson was not a good match for the park...but he's been bad for a while now in all venues. He's a good pitcher with a hilarious Nintendo slider...but that is the least likely weapon to be consistently effective in the closer's role. That has been researched. Guys like Arthur Rhodes, Jeff Nelson and company - guys who rely on big time sliders, do not do well in the closer's role because hitters in a save situation take more pitches (seriously...look it up) and if you're taking more pitches, you won't swing at as many sliders that break off the plate. If that makes my opinions less than worthless, I'm sorry.

2015-08-04 09:24

It doesn't surprise me that #Denver gets hash-tagged in the shout below... but why does "#Denver??" deserve the hash tag? Why just 2 question marks and not 1 or 3? I guess in the end it doesn't bother me or affect me since our current culture has taught me to ignore all pound signs and avoid them like the plague, just seems bizarre.

2015-08-04 09:20

Said all that to ask this question... Matt, is there anything atmospherically that can exacerbate the CO effect on a night to night (or season to season (spring vs. summer vs. winter) basis? Meaning was Coors be extra annoying last night or is THAT what baseball is like EVERY GAME in #Denver??? If so I thank the heavens I am not a Rockies fan!

2015-08-04 09:17

Granted, I don't get to see a lot of games in #Colorado... but I was taken aback by just HOW FLAT all the breaking balls were last night. Poor Butler (CO Starter) pretty much only had 2 versions of fastballs... fast and slow and centered (his "Slider"). Felix' Royal Curve was anything but majestic last night, even his change up seemed blah, and it was visibly effecting him... making him throw wilder than usual, spiking balls in the dirt trying to get them to break, and he demeanor was obviously frustrated. And of course Smith... Frisbee Slider of Death, was just a meh slider... better than Butlers (and he got a couple of ks on it) but defintely not teh Carson we are used to.

2015-08-04 08:53

A month ago, I hadn't seen much of Smith closing games. Since he took the closer's role, he's been VERY wobbly...and no, not just in #Colorado. he's young...he could get better...but right now, he is not ready for the role. He's still a good reliever...just needs to be used where he can be most effective.

2015-08-04 07:58

Watching Rasussen walk into the bullpen carrying the pink back pack standing next to the others really made him look like a kid hoping to try out for the high school team. Fun to get to see Felix and the rest of the M's take on the thin air. RockiesJeff

2015-08-04 02:48

Re: Carson Smith and BTB pitching. May not be a conditioning issue (Smith is a former college starter IIRC). Just might be the way his body reacts to the tissue damage/inflammation related to throwing a >90 mph high spin slider at max effort. His recovery might take 48 hrs rather than 24. IOW might not be fixable.

2015-08-03 23:38

B-R has Rasmussen at 5'10".

2015-08-03 23:35

I think Lloyd was right about Carson Smith a couple of months back pointing out that he can't really go out there on back to back days the way Rodney can. It makes me curious what sort of off-season conditioning regimen someone like Carson Smith would use to build up his endurance.

2015-08-03 21:55

Only this team can almost blow that lead. Even with Felix.. no lead safe this year. As mentioned though..baseball tgere just isn't fair at times. I guess the playing field is all even, but not really and more of a crap shoot than not

2015-08-03 21:41

BTW - what is Rasmussen, 5'4"?

2015-08-03 21:37

Also looked like the CO air was stealing bite from everyone's offspeed stuff... Is Felix also "worse than overrated" based on his performance? Their starter also couldn't get a slider to bite for the life of him... welcome to mile high! Carson definitely looked tired and his slider didn't move, but he was poised, he didn't walk people to make it worse and... he got the save...

2015-08-03 21:34

I can certainly see why they were leery of him getting too much exposure. Looks like he's tired and overthrowing to me. Good way to get hurt.

2015-08-03 21:29

Well, Matt, I'll give you one thing... Your opinions are never luke-warm, either hot or cold... although also almost always... "worse than useless" ;) a month ago you were lauding Smith as uber closer and untouchable... So he had a mortal week... so sue him

2015-08-03 20:57

Carson Smith is worse than useless as a closer. He is probably one of those guys, like Nelson, that just can't do it.

2015-08-03 20:56

Carson Smith needs a week off. Or two. He's as scary right now as bad Rodney.

2015-08-03 19:26

HAHAHAHAA...Zunino getting greedy - for a WALK. Throws the bat away on ball three. :)

2015-08-03 18:33

Baseball in #Denver is a joke.

2015-08-03 18:32

7-1....I bet Felix can handle this.

2015-08-03 17:48

Brown: M's fired Wakamatsu mid-year.

2015-08-03 17:47

This is a pretty good article on Chapman's adjustment from Cuba... http://espn.go.com/m...

To be honest, I have a hunch that the M's have trouble growing players that aren't classical in the sense of family and friendliness. Felix is the epitome of this; he has a wife, two kids, a dog and is extremely media friendly. Cano also seems fairly family oriented, especially with his parents.

But flip it over to Sasaki, or any number of players that have had media or family or any sort of outlying trouble, and their exits can be seen from a mile away. Sasaki was only afforded a dignified, but very Japanese, exit.

2015-08-03 17:45

Ackley look-alike playing CF for the Rockies!

2015-08-03 17:07

Crap runs downhill...look at the top.. maybe this is beginning of the end for upper management.. will now within next few weeks.

2015-08-03 16:47

Right. I have no issue with Nuno getting the start but if they are just now talking about changing a culture of entitlement, well, that's a little odd.

2015-08-03 16:34

McC sez 'We are trying to change the culture here' with respect to Roenis Elias? That's way harsh as a public comment. It's also way harsh on himself, if the culture needs to begin changing at the year-and-a-half mark. Not annoyed; mystified. McC's frustration and "visible sinking feeling" aura in the dugout ... it's quite a contrast to Pete Carroll imposing his personality on everybody around him including the media.

2015-08-03 16:28

Ya I see more likely them staying.. just cuz really the end is pretty close at this point. I do not see the Ms making a run at .500 though. Nothing has shown them to have that in them this year. No.matter the strength of schedule. If Lloyd and Jack are here come end of Aug.. they certainly will play out contract. If memory serves me Ms coaches usually play through contract also.

2015-08-03 15:41

I wouldn't be at all surprised if the addition of Montero etc, a weaker 2nd half schedule, that the M's go on a bit of a run, maybe even get back to .500 by seasons end and as a result Lloyd and Jack stick around.

2015-08-03 14:49

I think they are in fact going to stay the rest of the year. Because the gettings will be better for their replacements in the off-season.

2015-08-03 14:38

Gnatto... hope you are wrong about Lloyd and Jack playing through contract... but definately should prepare for that. I am just hoping for the notification of otherwise, but don't see any movement there

2015-08-03 14:23

Why would you reward Elias's 7plus ERA with a callup? Jesus Montero had to lead the entire PCL in hitting (.346) before he got his second callup. Elias has been terrible in Tacoma since he was sent down. You call him up now, and what you are saying is that you can just mail it in in Tacoma.

2015-08-03 13:52

Regarding Nuno over Elias... this may be Jack trying to accomplish two things... build up Nuno's value, as well as making Elias hungry

2015-08-03 12:59

I think we may need to prepare ourselves for Lloyd and Jack to play out their contract.

2015-08-03 12:05

Toward the end of his last call-up, Elias wasn't very good...not just talking runs or K/BB/HR...I'm talking pitchability and repeating his delivery. He looked...out of sorts. Distracted.

There was a reason he got sent down. Happ didn't do any better, but they had to keep him up to showcase him for trade.

Honestly...I love Elias' potential and his pitch mix. And I generally like his poise out there. But I do worry that he was rushed emotionally. From desperate Cuban ballplayer who was largely overlooked to rotation mainstay with only a brief and lukewarm stint in A+/AA before his arrival.

2015-08-03 10:09

Sabr.. you may be on to something in regards to Elias.. look at Puig. Still trying to adjust to all the stardom. Don't feel it's anything racial.. just cultural. Esp in Puig regard in big city like LA, but still the #Money and dramatic change of scenary in #Seattle can def be attributed. Moe definately highlighted that he has been good though. Everyone's gunna have a shaky game here and there buy compared to most of the team he has been consistent.

2015-08-03 08:09

Too cryptic for me. It just soulnds like an "after the fact" continuing defense of choosing Happ in the rotation over Elias. Hey, it was a pick 'em perhaps....although I would have preferred we pick Elias. Nonetheless, Elias has been pretty good as a MLB starter this year, minus two terrible outings: In 7 of his 13 starts he gave up 2 runs or less. In 3 others he game up 3 runs. So in 77% of his starts, he went 5.2 to 8 innings and gave up 3 runs or less. He had one start of 5.1 innings with 4 runs. And then he had two terrible starts w/7 combined innings and 14 ER's. Take those 2 starts away and he's running an ERA of less than 3 over 11 starts. In his last 10 starts in '14 he gave up 2 runs or less (although 1 was a 4 inning outing and another was 3 innings. So basically he's got a 24 start run of impressive stuff. But I suppose he doesn't fit the M's "culture." Montero didn't either. I don't blame Elias for being frustrated. He's been better than decent in the Majors!

2015-08-03 08:05

I guess Elias got tossed from the game after he got taken out the other day, too. So maybe some frustration bubbling up for him?

2015-08-03 08:00

Right Matt, that's the sort of thing we don't have a window on. For all we know Lloyd's decision could be precisely the right one. By the way, this "change the culture" mantra, though in general a good thing, seems to be taken too far sometimes. Imagine how this season might have gone if Montero had been on the big club earlier and allowed to play his way into regular PT. But no, we had to bludgeon Montero's lesson into his head in a display of overkill while we watched LoMo flail against LHP.

2015-08-03 07:40

Maybe Elis took himself too seriously this year and acted too big for his own head? It happens sometimes with Cuban players (and no...that's not a racial thing...it's a cultural one)

2015-08-03 07:38

The "change the culture" comment by Lloyd did come across as a little #Strange. I'm sure for him there's a context that makes this a decisive factor for him. Some factors of that context may be opaque to us. But it's hard to fathom why, the team having rightly given up on making the playoffs this season, the primary consideration is giving Elias a chance to reestablish himself as a bona fide member of the rotation going forward (or a serious trade chip if needed). By the way, if McClendon wants to change the culture he should invite #Lincoln and Zduriencik to lunch and suggest that they all resign immediately.

2015-08-03 07:27

My lack of faith simply keeps sinking. If that's a true quote, that'll be my newest gripe after him using Marte at leadoff.

2015-08-03 07:10

Lloyd said that? What the heck does that mean? Maybe we need to start w/the manager's chair.

2015-08-03 07:02

I guess with Elias getting torched in AAA, Nuno gets the start on Tuesday. I got a chuckle over Lloyd's "we are trying to change the culture here" comments regarding why Elias wasn't being brought up.

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