Eureka! Moments
Hey Bill, 3/14/14


The original "Eureka!," from the Greek verb heurisko, "to find."  Attributed to Archimedes, who when taking a bath, realized that he could use water displacement to calculate volume vs. weight and therefore density - allowing him to determine whether the king's crown was real gold.  Or something.  

The Bill James Online site is still a measly $3 per month, including the right to interact with the leading author.  (I was going to call him a VP of the Red Sox, but that damns him with faint praise.  Think about that.)  Ya think BaseballHQ is gonna do that for yer?  :- )

There were a dozen Hey Bill answers today, and this was an info-taining read -- for me, at least:


Q:  Having read about how you started your research while working as a night watchman, just wondering if you ever had a "eureka" moment, and what it was that convinced you to start this as a career?
Asked by: 77royals
Answered: 3/14/2014
A:  There were probably several Eureka moments, but in the spring of 1977, when the spring annuals hit the newsstands, I bought several of them, as I usually did, and started working my way through them (on my shift as a night watchman.) After about a half hour I realized that I knew far more about the subject than the people writing the magazines did. It's a normal kind of maturity moment, I think; as a child you assume that others are experts, that people who write books and people who write for magazines have some sort of magical insight that makes them better qualified than you to write these things.
At some point--I would assume no matter what it is that you are interested in, stamp collecting or martial arts--at some point you realize that the people who have been educating you so far are running on empty, and it's your turn to talk.

This is going to sound dumb, but ... I'd been wondering why it's no fun to read the mainstream sites.  D'oh.  Even, ESPN, SportsCenter, it just all seems pointless and it was hard to put your finger on the reason why.

You know what I do like to read?  Youse guys.

Gordon's reports on minor leaguers, just f'r instance ... Jim's singling out of Alias Smith and Leone ... Mojician's cross-examinations of majority opinions ... Mo' Dawg's seasoned perspective ... just about anybody who posts, actually.  That is the info-tainment that I used to pay $60 a year for, from Baseball America, or Sports Illustrated, or wherever.  And there are many posters who throw comments into the threads, even into the Shout Box, that contain more substance than you're going to get at the newsstand.

Thanks, y'all.


Platoon Differentials

Talking about hitters here, Bill sez:


Q:  What makes you think Harper's platoon splits aren't normal? For him anyway.
Asked by: shthar
Answered: 3/14/2014
A:  Because, in reality, almost every player has essentially the same platoon differential, not as an absolute rule, of course, but in general. People think of the platoon differential as an individual characteristic, different for each player. The reality is that it is not an individual characteristic of each player; it is a general feature of the game itself, which, over time, tends to have the same effect on every player. With a few exceptions, of course.




Q:  Bill, regarding platoon differentials: is it true, as my intuition tells me, that lefty pitchers do better against lefty hitters than righty pitchers do against rightyhitters? If so, do you have a theory as to why?
Asked by: manhattanhi
Answered: 3/14/2014
A:  It is more untrue than true. There is SOME such effect, which I think is not genuinely difficult to understand, but in general, the effect is more the same than it is different.

Bill proposes that when batters (and even pitchers) show wide differentials, we are mostly just seeing "noise" (random variation) and we are taking it as part of each individual's skill set.

Of course, this is what Bill has been doing since 1977, starting with ERA.  Isn't it funny how we have to force ourselves to think this way on each new stat that comes down the road?

(Some pitchers, such as Jeremy Bonderman, actually do defy this generalization; a sidearming LOOGY is probably another exception.)


As to the Mariners:  the implication would be that the M's don't have to worry about being too left-handed.  Or, that they don't need to worry AS MUCH as they thought they did.



The typical journalist, whether in sports or pretty much any other field, is hired because of their writing skill not their expertise. Worse, a lot of sports talking heads say stuff just to create controversy. Talk radio is especially dreadful in this regard.
James is also dead on about platoon splits, at least for hitters. With all the data available, people have fallen into the trap of believing that all the numbers must be deeply significant and can be taken at face value. The reality is that the vast majority of the stats people use tend to obscure rather than clarify. I used to constantly look at monthly splits of players in hopes of spotting trends or seeing that someone had turned a corner but it never ended up meaning anything. The same holds true for lots of other stats like batter/pitcher matchups, day/night splits, etc. We are much better off looking at just the overall numbers instead of slicing up the data.
It should be mentioned, though, that switch-hitters do have pretty consistent platoon splits. Same goes for pitchers. Generally, the lower the arm angle and the more they rely on the slider the bigger the true split.


Since it's in effect two different hitters.  
/cosign on the arm angle and slider.
Interesting feedback, as to your watching the month-to-month splits.  I can relate, and sometimes that's the best way to learn the lesson, through personal experience.  Good stuff CPB.


Of one particular Mariner has caused me to quit reading multiple articles and conversations across multiple Seattle sites recently.
"Smoak shouldn't hit RH!"
My response is, "yeah, in 2010 and '13. 2011 and 12 he was better RH than LH. He's cleared 100 OPS+ as a LHB once (13) and as a RHB once (11)."
If you break it down further on the road he's better vs. LHP career. At Home he's better vs. RHP career. No surprise to me there. Highest wOBA split career? Ignoring the 3 PA RH vs RH in 2011 .423 which often get credited as LH in bulk (it's vs RH...)it's .322 road vs LHP. Highest ISO of .182, 104 wRC+ again road vs lhp. Hitting RH on the road he's better than any other of his RH/LH home/road splits. Career. Not 2013's SSS...
Safeco on his RH production before the walls were moved in then add in a horrible start to '13 as a RHB that I think just snowballed. Although by the end of those 164 PA RH last year he was starting to produce. His first RH XBH was a 2b on May 18. His 2nd was not until July 4th and his RH HR were both in September.
Everywhere I look it's being said Smoak shouldn't hit RH but the career numbers say otherwise. And the RH vs RH game of 2011 (2b in 3 PA) is being put in the wrong category as it was vs RH. Not that those 3 PA change things much overall career but his 2011 numbers look much different if you look at "vs LH/vs RH" instead of realizing he had those right on right AB and we're really looking for "RH/LH" which isn't even an option at most sites.
Smoak can and has hit well right handed. Against lhp even. More so on the road, but that shouldn't be a surprise to any of us.
His 2011 vs lhp (losing the 2b and 3 PA=.333/.333/.666/1.000 day RH vs RH again) was about 15th best in the game at 1b. About half the teams in the game didn't have a better RH producer at 1b. By wOBA he was 15th among 25 qualifiers vsL. 15th BB%, 16th OBP, 17th SLG, 17th ISO, 17th K% , 22nd BABIP. Vs LHP. I'm not saying he's an All Star RH, but he can hit RH. If you look beyond 2013.
Vs R in 2011 Smoak was 27th with 300+ PA of 34 in wOBA, tied for 23rd-26th in wRC+. Adam Kennedy got 23 starts at 1b in 2011 showing up 34th of 34 in wOBA, 31st in wRC+ with 14 less PA than Smoak. Sorry about that reminder...
Smoak himself had been pointing out that just a couple years ago people were saying maybe he should give up hitting LH...

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