Thursday, July 30, 2009

Execs Love Stats, Thinking; Managers Hate Stats, Thinking

Reading Tim Kurkihjidsian's latest article (it's pretty good) about the magic number of the 100-pitch start, I came across an interesting paragraph that seems to corroborate the postulate I suggested in my last post about Jeter:

There is an growing discord in baseball between the managers and players in an organization and the management of an organization over the use of numbers/statistics/quantifiers to make baseball decisions.

Consider this paragraph, which attributes the slow but significant decline in pitches per start to:

Today's young general manager

Twenty years ago, nearly 90 percent of all GMs had played in the major leagues. Now there are three out of 30: Philadelphia's Ruben Amaro Jr., the White Sox's Kenny Williams and Billy Beane of the A's.

An interesting stat, though it's not like any of those players had major league careers of major significance.

This decade has brought a new breed of GM, one who is highly educated, can run a spreadsheet and has mountains of data to support his theories.

It certainly has, suggesting that the Moneyball revolution has really shaken the management of the game to its core.

"We have a new wave of general managers who are deeply into mathematics, analysis, metrics -- I'm not saying it's wrong -- because that's what they charted in the minor leagues," said Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey.

I'm not really sure what he means here. Does he mean the GM started charting these things in the minor leagues of being a GM?

"I don't know the numbers, but the new wave of GMs are the ones who have charted that the chance of injury is, say, greater at 85 pitches than it is at 75. And with every five-pitch increment, there's a 22.8 percent more likely chance that someone gets hurt. With each 10 extra pitches, it goes up by five percent."

Interesting. So it seems like a basic calculation: after X number of pitches, you get a diminishing return on your investment in a starting pitcher. Obviously a pitcher isn't much more likely to get hurt between 50 and 55 pitches, but if a pitcher's chance of going on the DL rises significantly after, say, 105 pitches... is it really worth leaving them in for another inning when you have a reliever who can throw that inning almost as well?

The new GMs sometimes clash with the old-school manager about how the club should be run. Often, the GM wins.

I sure wish Wayne Krivsky would clash with Dusty Baker about having the player with the lowest VORP of any starting major leaguer hit leadoff and get the most at-bats for the Cincinnati Reds. Literally! He's 865th in the majors in VORP! Where is the stat-conscious GM when I need him?

"My GM used to load reams and reams of paper on my desk about that night's game," one former manager said. "Sometimes I'd read it; sometimes I just throw it in the trash.

... awesome.

But in the end, if it comes down to him or me, he's usually going to win. And if the discussion is about pitch counts, he is always going to win."


It seems as though the disconnection between the front office's love of player statistics and players' and managers' distaste for them is only going to increase in coming years. I wonder if there will be real consequence from it.

30 comments:

Larry B said...

Probably my favorite angle in this whole topic area is how HOFers like Nolan Ryan hate pitch counts and constantly rail against them whenever given access to the media. They hold themselves and the success they enjoyed without being held back by pitch counts as dispositive evidence that pitch counts are dumb. Dear Nolan & Co., there are things called exceptions, and then there are things called rules. Guess which one you were? Guess which one 99% of all MLB SPs are?

Djmmm said...

Larry B, the point is even stronger when one considers that Ryan is probably the most singular pitcher in major league history. I would argue there are ZERO pitchers ever quite like him.

Chris W said...

Bill James is anti-pitch count, for whatever that's worth.

Chris W said...

Furthermore, Nolan Ryan's not exactly an "exception" to pitch counts. Before pitch counts were adapted pitchers who had success pitching more than 100 pitches a game were the rule, not the exception.

Larry B said...

Chris- I guarantee you, more than a few players who would have had tremendously successful careers had pitch counts been more commonplace have suffered debilitating injuries throughout the years. That's some awful grammar but you get the point. Between whenever and the early 90s, a lot of guys who could have been Cy Young and potential HOFers (in today's game) got used up and burnt out during their mid 20s. I guarantee it. Their places were taken by guys with considerably less talent but with rubber arms. Guys who would have been weeded out in today's system because their ability to throw a lot of pitches would be worth considerably less. I'm not putting a value judgment on it- it may be good for the sport, or it may be bad- but hearing idiots like Ryan think that no one should have a pitch count because he didn't gets tiresome after a while. (And he's far from the only one.)

Tonus said...

"It certainly has, suggesting that the Moneyball revolution has really shaken the management of the game to its core."

Howard Bryant has a pretty good article on ESPN this week about just that topic. He noted that while a lot of 'baseball people' are enjoying watching the A's struggle, the thinking behind the "Moneyball philosophy" has already become the norm on nearly every Major League team. This article is just another indication of that. Teams are researching pitcher effectiveness to get the most out of their investments.

I'm only against pitch counts when they're used without any flexibility. I believe that some pitchers can handle big workloads. An automatic hook after 95-100 pitches is lazy and can hurt a team's performance.

Chris W said...

Larry B--

I'm sure you're right. And I bet you a lot of .500 teams that didn't make the playoffs in the days since pitch counts had been adopted might have made the playoffs if

a.) They had felt the "conventional" freedom to go with a four-man rotation to supplant a piss-pitiful fifth starter

b.) They had allowed their horses to pitch deep in games and lessen the load on bullpens or minimize the problems caused my unreliable middle-relief men.

Every system regarding pitching is going to cause problems because

i.) Pitching is everything but an exact science

and

ia.) Every pitcher has different needs and nuances in regards to pitching well and staying healthy.

and

iaa.) There are certain pitchers who are simply going to get injured and there are certain pitchers who are simply not going to get injured despite all signs pointing to that they should.

Just saying. Maybe Ryan's right and maybe Ryan's wrong, but let's not act like he was the only pitcher in the 1980's who was able to throw 150 pitchers in 30+ starts year in and year out. As a matter of fact, there were quite a few of those on every single team in baseball until baseball decided to assign an arbitrary restriction on the number of pitches they wanted a pitcher to throw.

Chris W said...

Also, I can give you myriad pitchers SINCE pitch counts have been adopted who could have been HOFers who have lost their careers to chronic injuries.

Ben Sheets, Kerry Wood, and Mark Prior spring immediately to mind.

Iridescence said...

I think calling a guy who pitched as much and as well as Nolan Ryan an "idiot" when he's talking about pitching is a little much. I think Ryan's position is extreme but he also knows more about actual pitching than any of us will ever know.

I can see the value of limiting a good pitcher's innings and taking a guy out when the lead is big enough that the bullpen should be able to hold it but strict arbitrary pitch counts (OMG! if he throws 105 pitches instead of 100 his arm will fall off!) are stupid and just a tool dumb managers (and dumb GMs) use to avoid criticism.

Some pitchers with otherwise promising careers will always get hurt no matter how much you protect their arms and every pitcher is an individual with different limits on the strain they can put on their arm with reasonable safety.

Larry B said...

Just saying. Maybe Ryan's right and maybe Ryan's wrong, but let's not act like he was the only pitcher in the 1980's who was able to throw 150 pitchers in 30+ starts year in and year out. As a matter of fact, there were quite a few of those on every single team in baseball until baseball decided to assign an arbitrary restriction on the number of pitches they wanted a pitcher to throw.

Were you reading what I wrote?

"Between whenever and the early 90s, a lot of guys who could have been Cy Young and potential HOFers (in today's game) got used up and burnt out during their mid 20s. I guarantee it. Their places were taken by guys with considerably less talent but with rubber arms."

Yes. There were a bunch of those guys rubber-armed guys. But many of them were very mediocre, and only had careers because guys much more talented than them didn't have rubber arms. In today's game, those talented but less durable guys have a higher likelihood of sticking around.

Also, I can give you myriad pitchers SINCE pitch counts have been adopted who could have been HOFers who have lost their careers to chronic injuries.

I can't find the part where I said that rigid pitch counts will always prevent injuries 100% the time forever. Do you think there would be more Mark Priors out there if not for the prevalence of pitch counts recently? I'm going to go with "yes."

Look, the value (or lack thereof) of pitch counts is not even the topic my original post was about. My thesis is this: Nolan Ryan, whenever asked about the subject, doesn't take the same kind of analytical stance you or Bill James does. He just grunts, spits on the ground, and says "Well dadgumit I never had a pitch count, neither did other good pitchers from my era, and look at us! We turned out fine!" And that's it. He's burying his sand, or appears to be every time I've read something he's said about the subject. His seeming inability to grasp the rule/exception thing is what I'm poking fun at.

Chris W said...

There's no doubt that pitch counts limit injuries.

Anything that reduces wear on a player limits injuries.

What Ryan seems to be questioning is to what extent that preventative measurement against injuries begins to affect a team's ability to win beyond the marginal value toward's a team success this preventative measure provides.

i.e. if pulling a pitcher in the 6th inning when he's pitching well with a narrow lead b/c his PC is at 104 reduces his likelihood of injury by X% but likewise descreases his team's likelihood to win by Y%, at what point does this prevention of injury bring diminishing returns?

Of course, I doubt Ryan's thinking of it in precisely those terms, but I DO think he's thinking of it in layman's terms that approach that line of thought.

Alternatively, he might just be an idiot. Who knows.

Larry B said...

Iridescence, you're on my list too now.

I think calling a guy who pitched as much and as well as Nolan Ryan an "idiot" when he's talking about pitching is a little much. I think Ryan's position is extreme but he also knows more about actual pitching than any of us will ever know.

He had an all-time great career, and knows a ton about how he pitched. Does that make him an authority on all things related to pitching, forever? NO! Of course it doesn't! His stance about pitch counts is vaguely analogous to a person who won the lottery trying to tell everyone else how to get rich. He had a combination of talent and durability that is virtually unmatched in baseball history. How is he going to apply what he got out of that to today's game, when talent is far more highly in demand than durability due to the offensive explosion of the 90s and early 00s? There's no way he can.

Chris W said...

"I can't find the part where I said that rigid pitch counts will always prevent injuries 100% the time forever. Do you think there would be more Mark Priors out there if not for the prevalence of pitch counts recently? I'm going to go with "yes.""

Well, you gave anecdotal evidence (without even the anecdotes) to support your theory that "so and so many players' careers were ruined by pitch counts."

which may be so, but correlation does not necessarily imply causality, which is why I gave you the Sheets, Prior and Wood examples.

Look, let's say you even COULD find, say, 10 potential HOF pitchers b/t 1920-1980. Let's say you showed that injury ended a career that COULD have been HOF. Let's say you even showed they threw a lot of pitches.

That would be pretty mild evidence (at best) because

a.) Everyone threw a lot of pitches then

b.) NOW, when no one throws a lot of pitches, we still have tons of HOF caliber pitchers' careers end early due to injury.

THAT was my point. So don't accuse me of not reading your post if you're not going to read my own post comprehensively.

Larry B said...

Yes, Chris. Exactly. Your analysis is correct, and every team should weigh it carefully. My original point, again, is that Ryan is not analytical. At all. Every time I read a quote from him about this, it's this rough and tumble "Get out there and throw a complete game, that's the way it used to be done!" crap. He just sounds disappointed that teams approach things differently today than they used to. He never says anything about WHY they're approaching it differently, if they're overvaluing X% as opposed to Y% (from your last comment), etc. He's just a tough guy who's mad that there aren't any tough guys out there anymore. We need more tough guys!

Larry B said...

There's a difference between me not knowing the names of guys whose careers were ruined by throwing too many pitches 60 years ago, and you implying (inferring?) that I don't think pitchers get injured anymore.

Chris W said...

Well his point is relevant--pitch counts cause pitchers to exit games early.

He may be using tough guy terms, but when I read his comments I see him as saying "What's the deal with pitch counts? We are training our pitchers to go six innings and turn the game over to an often unreliable bullpen. When I pitched we may have won or lost, but we put the terms of our win and loss on the shoulders of our most talented pitchers* and I would like to see how going back to those days will help our team."

My major objection would not be him being a meathead, but rather him being willing to give more innings to the shit ass starting pitchers who play in Arlington.





*since starting pitchers are, with the possible exception of closers, by far the most talented pitchers on a staff

Chris W said...

"There's a difference between me not knowing the names of guys whose careers were ruined by throwing too many pitches 60 years ago, and you implying (inferring?) that I don't think pitchers get injured anymore."

Put some ointment on your butthurt. That's not what I was saying.

AS I FUCKING SAID, I was trying to illustrate that even if you showed that talented pitchers got hurt in the pre-pitch count days, that wouldn't really prove much vis a vis pitch count since post-pitch count we still have tons of extremely talented pitchers who lost a shot at the HOF due to injury.

Beyond Woods, Prior and Sheets, we can also look at even TALENTED and SUCCESSFUL pitchers like Halladay and Oswalt--guys who really don't throw a lot of pitches, but nevertheless have lost out (or probably will lose out) at a shot at the HOF because of how much time they've lost to nagging and reemerging injury.

Larry B said...

Look, I'm just tired of people like Nolan Ryan inferring that pitch counts are ruining baseball. And even more tired of you inferring that I think they're the greatest thing ever. They're not. I never even inferred that.

Chris W said...

I'm literally so mad right now that smoke is coming out of my ears. If I see you, I will literally tear you limb from limb until you are literally nonexistent

Larry B said...

I am literally going to vomit blood and spiders after reading that. I hope you can imply from this that I'm pretty upset.

cs said...

Gays.

dan-bob said...

Look, assholes, I didn't put the "reasonable and calm debate about sports issues" on this post so you earwigs could rattle your antennae at each other.

What might be relevant to this point is if someone went out and found the X% and Y% numbers that Chris cited earlier.

For the X%:
What is the probability that the pitcher sustains some arm injury from pitching past 100 pitches? [Kurkjian's article suggests some numbers for this].

That is, to what extent does keeping in a league-average starting pitcher past 100 pitches give you a better chance to win?
[assume a league-average bullpen]

Chris W said...

shut up, Dan-Bob. The grownups are talking.

Anonymous said...

Chris,

Not to nitpick, but two of your examples basically killed their careers under Dusty Baker, who pretty much doesn't give a shit about a guy's arm falling off.

Pitch counts, like all statistics, are neither good or bad. The way they are interpreted is what makes them that way. If a manger pulls a guy after N pitches not matter what, that's a bad thing, but if a manager takes into account things like how quickly a pitcher tires, how the pitcher is doing that game, how much pressure/work the pitcher is used to, etc. and applies those to the situation at hand, then they're a good thing to have.

Ya, some guys get hurt even with pitch counts, but that's only one part of the equation. Knowing roughly when a pitcher starts tossing batting practice allows you to avoid allowing a few runs while the bullpen warms up.

While I think that guys who could blow through 150 pitches was more the norm back in Nolan Ryan's day, today most managers won't put that much pressure on players at lower leagues. Very rarely is there a player today who has been prepared to throw as many pitches as once was expected and as a result, either have to strengthen themselves up to get to the level or the manager/GM has to take that into consideration.

Back in the day having a SP go 300 innings a year was pretty normal and bragging about hitting 200 IP made you a pussy. It's just the way the game has evolved. The problem I have with Nolan Ryan's and similar statements is that they refuse to take into account that the game has changed. It's not about it being "good" or "bad," it simply has changed to what it is now, where pitch counts can, when used properly, give great insight into not only keeping your pitcher healthy, but maximizing his production.

Chris W said...

kerry wood missed plenty time before Dusty arrived in 03

Iridescence said...

In fairness to Ryan he did say he wants to start it at the minor league level and get guys used to it. He is not just saying the Rangers major league pitchers are going to suddenly be expected to throw 150 pitches per start.

In response to the point made earlier about how "worse" pitchers used to get more innings because they were more durable while less durable pitchers "better" got injured. Who is really "better" for his team, a pitcher who averages 7 or 8 innings per start with a 3.25 ERA or a guy who has a 2.50 ERA but can only go 5 innings per start?

Considering the extra strain the second guy puts on the bullpen and the fact that most teams do not have middle relievers who are consistantly as good as top starters I think they'd be close in value.

If anyone wants to run a VORP assessment or something and prove me wrong go ahead :)

Tonus said...

Why are we still talking about this? THE TIME SAYS THAT PAPI AND MANNY TESTED POSITIVE IN '03!!! BOMBSHELL!!! OH GOD IT'S ALL OVER PAGING CANSECO, PAGING JOSE CANSECO!!!

Okay, that's done. Back to talking about pitch counts.

Djmmm said...

*sigh*

I am never checking the box for the emailing follow up comments again...

Chris W said...

Lol

The Casey said...

Some data I would like to see in conjunction with the declining pitch count is how much pitchers throw between starts as compared to 10/20/30 years ago. Something I heard during the 90's about the Braves' staff was that Mazzone usually had them throwing more between starts than other teams. It seems to me that throwing the extra low-stress pitches on off days would be a good way to slowly build stamina so that, if necessary in a given game, a pticher could more safely throw some extra pitches.