Jerry DiPoto, K:BB ratio, and Life Lessons
See you in "court," Arte



In chess, as in baseball, and as in life, these are four different things, in approximate order of virtuosity:

  • Having a collection of insights about a 'sport'
  • Being able to prioritize these insights; sense of proportion
  • Having a grasp and comprehension, a philosophy, a style
  • Inventing new things, due to creative genius

The local chessplayer, who studies all his life, might actually know 80% or 90% as much about chess as did Bobby Fischer.  He knows the third-order principles, such as, Knight-and-Pawn endings are to be played as if they were King-and-Pawn endings.  The typical 50th percentile tournament chessplayer knows more than enough to become a 95th percentile player.  He can't prioritize his info.

Not to be harsh, but any given sabermetrician at Hardball Times might know as many saber principles as Paul DePodesta, the failed Dodger GM, and will know more than Pat Gillick, the non-failed HOF GM.  And this saberdude would have a trifle more difficulty winning a World Series than he imagines he would.

But Fischer will glance at a position for three or four seconds, see 12 different principles that apply, and go "THAT one is what matters here."  He would point out that in Position X with hanging pawns, the dominant question was whether Black could exchange two or more pairs of minor pieces -- that the "tipping point" for the position was minor piece exchange.  Not rook files, not weak squares, not development.

And so you could take any facet of Balance in the world of the game board ... set scales from -100 to +100 ... how aggressive should you be?  How tactical vs strategic should you be?  How structural vs dynamic should you be?  And time after time, move after move, he would hit GLORIOUS balance points that even today are missed by powerful computers.

Not to put too fine a point on it, a very bright business student in college will tend to assume that he will be rich if only he can line up 1,000 points of understanding about Biz Administration.  Pride goeth before a fall :- )



This whole thing about DiPoto emphasizing the strike zone for hitters ... that is most certainly NOT the only way that GM's can look at drafting.  Jack Zduriencik, for example, was all about "specialness" in a player.  Jack wanted upside.  

Brad Miller?  The ball jumps off his bat.

Kyle Seager?  He's a "gamer" on a galactic level.  Kyle was pushed through our minors for several good reasons, but strike zone control wasn't it.

Mike Zunino?  It was a "real nice package" of skills coming out of college, an interesting blend of defense and power.

Jesus Montero?  There were many reasons to like him, but K:BB wasn't the key issue.

Ketel Marte?  He's got "special" coverage of the strike zone back to front, can "cover" the ball anywhere.


Many GM's like 5-tool players, or extending that just a bit, players with "specialness" of one type or other -- players who manifest things you don't see every day.  Drafting isn't as simple as just K:BB ratio.

But DiPoto prioritizes contact ability, strikeout rate.  He wound up with a bunch of boring players at the "Scrub" position, like Chris Iannetta C and Cole Calhoun RF and Colin Cowgill LF and David Freese 3B, all among the most "ceiling'ed" players in baseball.  You aren't going to get a Michael Saunders or a Brad Miller or a Dustin Ackley style outburst from any of the 2014 Angel scrubs.  

But they all gave you 3 WAR and you won 98 games.  Look at this WAR column for the 2014 Angels!

In the day, they used to say players like Ianneta or Calhoun or Freese, "He's just a real solid ballplayer."  Steady Eddies.  This in no way runs counter to Stars & Scrubs; we're talking about how you get good Scrubs.


The Hey Bill column the last two days has been talking about where K:BB ranks when you're comparing it to other priorities:


I'm curious why the home team (or pitcher) has an advantage in strikeouts and walks? Does it have to do with favorable umpiring, "home cooking" so to speak? I don't doubt you, but it seems counterintuitive, since you would think a home team would be most helped in areas where it could tailor its team to take advantage of physical idiosynchrasies of the stadium, whereas the distance between the mound and home should be the same in every park. 
Asked by: pablo
Answered: 9/29/2015
When the first study drew our attention to the fact that the largest part of the home field advantage is in strikeouts and walks, this was reported as showing that umpire bias was the source of the home field advantage. I'm not sure that's a correct interpretation. The strike zone is the heart of the game, and everything goes through it.
The only difference between Randy Johnson and an average pitcher is that Randy Johnson's strikeout/walk ratio was much better. By the same logic, one could conclude that Randy Johnson was a better-than-average pitcher only because the umpires liked him.
Strikeouts and walks are the only difference between Gary Sheffield (as a hitter) and Doug Mirabelli; that is, their batting average on balls in play is about the same (.289 for Sheffield, .284 for Mirabelli) and they averaged about the same number of bases per hit (1.76 each); the only difference between them is that Mirabelli struck out more than twice as often, and Sheffield walked more often.
Control of the strike zone is very much at the heart of the game, and it probably should be expected that any advantage would be more reflected there than anywhere else.
HeyBill re: Home advantage in SO and walks. Could this just be the subtle tailoring of the mound for the home pitcher? In case of the '60s Dodgers, not so subtle. So in effect, the home advantage for pitchers is just a park effect.
Asked by: FrankD
Answered: 9/29/2015
No. It's not a local phenomenon; it's a general phenomenon. By the same logic, you could argue that Randy Johnson was only a better than average pitcher because he did a better job of tailoring the mound to suit himself. That, however, would be a much LESS ostentatious argument, because Johnson only pitched 650 games or something, whereas the home field advantage is a phenomenon applying to hundreds of thousands of games.
You're not processing the general point that the strike zone is the heart of the game, and everything goes through it.


So you've got a GM who thinks that the game pivots around the strike zone.  He comes in as boss as says, "First thing we're going to do here, before I even talk to anybody, is we are going to get minor league players who look good from a strike zone paradigm."



Dr D



Everyone knows that teams perform better at home then on the road, yet most people don't realize the implication of this: each individual player has better numbers at home. You see this when people state a player's road numbers and then assert that this represents his true ability. The two questioners are clearly missing this and thus have cause and effect backwards. They think that the better K/BB ratio causes the better performance, when in reality it's the improved performance that causes the better numbers. In fairness, I completely missed this until I saw it mentioned in a book.


In his radio interview with Shannon Drayer, DiPoto talked about how although he'd always been atuned to the "numbers" side of the game (even as a player), it was when he served in Boston's front office alongside Bill James from '02 through the WS season in '04 that he truly realized the impact SABR and analytics could have on the game. He mentioned James a couple more times as well.

GLS's picture

We know so little about player development, both in the minors and the majors. How long does it take for a young player's skills to "set"? If a player makes it to AA and AAA with a certain set of conditioned responses that have allowed him to succeed to that point (but will be exposed in the majors), is it still possible to mold that player so that he can succeed in the majors?  


Maybe. They already have Taylor and Zunino down in AZ reworking their swings. Nobody has said anything but one has to presume that's Edgar's doing. Edgar's tee-drill sure seems to have benefitted Trumbo. Shrug - it'll work for some and not for others. 


The thing about Trumbo's fix -- if we understand it accurately -- is that it's an insight about the pitcher-hitter battle.  It's really more about pitch sequences and organizing Trumbo's thoughts.  He makes imperceptible swing adjustments in response to covering the low-away pitch first, but it's not as if he's got to learn a new way of launching the bat or something.

I think it's superficial to look at a batter's checkpoints and move an elbow here or a hand there.  It's about ki, which the simple tee drill redirected.

:: batter adjusts swing arc, then looks out at pitcher :: "Oh, are you still here?"

Sadaharu Oh would be proud of Edgar :- )

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