...I advocate two things in building a winner in baseball. 1) a balanced offense and 2) a run prevention model. You know I think fielding is worth more than you think it is. ..but that or will be hard to ever see it on the field because good fielders tend to be worse hitters and you can't win with a downright bad offense.
So here is a Freeman Dyson-level math problem for you. Ready? :: reader’s brow furrows, bites lip ::
You are playing poker and you have 1,000 chips. Now I have a secret buzzer system set up, Joe Pesci will never find out about it, and I can help you in one of two ways. Your pick. First way: I can win you a +150 chip pot. Second way: I can keep you out of a pot where you would lose -150 chips.
If you can’t quite get this one, dial 1-800-FREEMAN. That, or read any of Bill James’ Abstracts from 1903-2014. The answer, like the voodoo chicken bones on the trash can in Predator II, is always the same. It don’t matter whether you add the +150, or you keep yourself away from losing the -150. It just don’t matter whether you score +1 in the bottom of the inning, or you throw out a runner at home plate for -1 in the top of the inning.
Except: Jerry DiPoto has would much rather avoid losing the -150. Scratch that: he is completely sure that it is correct to do so.
We’d better back this SSI box truck up, and take it slower. Try again. You can have any of the following Mariner teams next year. Pick only one:
- 95 OPS+, 115 ERA+ for a +80 run differential
- 115 OPS+, 95 ERA+ for a +80 run differential
- 105 OPS+, 105 ERA+ for a +80 run differential
Um ... Makes no difference. Right? Except that the Arena Baseball would be fun to watch.
But! it does make a difference?! From Fangraphs’ very fine interview of DiPoto:
On implementing a run-prevention model: “We see ourselves as a run-prevention club. You can create a lot of advantage playing good defense. …
“[Statcast] creates a different target list in what we’re looking for in free agency, and in trades. A few players have crawled up my leaderboard of appealing players. You still have to be able to play some offense (?!? – Dr. D) in order to play every day, but we’re learning more and more about [defensive] value, because we’re able to carve the data.
On the Mariners’ earlier, unsuccessful defensive model: “It was fairly short-lived. The information available to us now is much greater than it was back in 2008-2009. The Mariners did approach things from a run-prevention model, but they did it with less information, and when it didn’t reach the optimal results quickly, they went in a different direction. I think we’re going to be a little more committed to it, because we have more information telling us that it’s a viable animal.”
You didn’t misunderstand him. He wants a 95 offense and a 115 pitching staff. The 115 would be caused in part by glovework, of course, but still.
He also said that the Chavez/Kotchman Mariners were on the right track, albeit for a different reason. The key idea wasn’t that UZR players were a Moneyball inefficiency, per Blengino's camera angle; the real insight was that pitching and defense was the right way to win baseball games.
And now, you tell Dr. D you always agreed with this. Fine and dandy, but you never typed it into this blog anywhere. So you’ll forgive him if he doubts you’re less stunned than he is.
POSSIBLE REASONS JERRY DIPOTO LIKES PITCHING. BECAUSE:
- Jerry DiPoto used to be a pitcher?
- Throwing the ball to a certain spot involves less luck than batting it into a helpful place on the field?
- Safeco Field makes a “run-prevention model” feasible? (Hint: No, that’s not why he believes in pitching.)
- “Run-Prevention Model” sounds SOOOOooooo much cooler than “Good Pitching Beats Good Hitting?”
- You can “teach” Mark Trumbo up more easily than you can “teach” Roenis Elias up?
- Jerry DiPoto is even more fond of hyperbole and gratuitous shock value than is Dr. D? (Impossible.)
- It’s easier to find market inefficiencies in pitching? (This is a variation on Stars & Scrubs roster flexibility.) DiPoto said in the same interview that flyball pitchers are cool in Safeco and are as easy to hunt-and-gather as strawberries in London.)
- Coaches like defense because it gives the feel and illusion of control?
- All of the above?
- None of the above?
Is run differential the bottom line or is it not? Does James’ Pythagorean Theorem work or is it a shibboleth?
Mainframe don’t fail me now,
You're on the record for. Would maintain that's a slightly different proposition, but yeah. :- ) Stipulated.
Coaches like defense because it gives the feel and illusion of control?
And it is true in almost every sport (basketball being the obvious one). But it doesn't negate the corollary truth that defense (or run prevention) shows up on a lot more consistent basis than does high octane baseball. Your defense (or run prevention) keeps you around. That's the "control" that coaches and GM's like in baseball.
In basketball, football, soccer or hockey, you can achieve the sensation of playing "defense with your offense" by slowing the game down and taking possessions away from the other guy. You just click time off the clock. It isn't really defense as the only statistic that really matters is points given up per possession, not total points. But it creates the illusion of control.
Baseball, however, doesn't allow you to ice the clock. The other guy gets the ball 9 times no matter how much you slow play it. But coaches (and GM's) still try to control the game through defense.
Of course in baseball the run prevention effort that really matters is which guys are chucking the ball for you. Terrible-no good-bad pitchers don't get bailed out by a GG SS often enough to have it make much difference. As it stands, we have the arms to win. DiPoto will get another one or two, as well.
In your 3-choice quiz, Doc, it does make a difference in that your question isn't really about who does best in the regular season but who might have a chance of moving on, and on. Gimme the pitching staff that is 15% better than the rest of the league. Iwakuma has a career ERA+ of 117. Essentially you would have a staff of Iwakumas facing a lineup of Seth Smith's (OPS+ 113).
BTW, ERA basically measures the runs you did allow and OPS measures the runs you should have scored. There is a difference.
I know who I like in that bet.
It's funny you bring this up Mo' Dawg 'cause Fangraphs just ran a correlation between CLOCK TIME at the plate and winning. It correlated pretty well, as I recall. :- )
But of course your point is well taken. The Seahawks are playing defense with their offense on every single play; this effect is negligible in baseball.
"In your 3-choice quiz, Doc, it does make a difference in that your question isn't really about who does best in the regular season but who might have a chance of moving on, and on. Gimme the pitching staff that is 15% better than the rest of the league."
That's always been my interest as well: what kind of team WINS IN THE POSTSEASON? But Lincoln and Armstrong, via their mentor Pat Gillick, viewed the postseason as a crapshoot. "We'll win 90 a year and win the World Series when we get lucky," a direct quote I recall. As Baseball Prospectus has seconded, at the top of their lungs.
Here's the interesting Q: does DiPoto himself favor "The Run Prevention Model" (rolls eyes, LOL) because he wants a RING? Or more broadly because it gives him a bit of an edge generally?